Insights, Web Development
Contentful Review 2023: More than a Headless CMS
Is Contentful the Right CMS to Future-Proof Your Content?
Is Contentful different than other headless CMS solutions? In this quick Contentful review, we explain the pros and cons of the platform, how it works and what makes Contentful more than a headless CMS.
Introduction to Contentful
Contentful is an API-first CMS platform for businesses to create, manage, and distribute content on multiple digital channels. Unlike classic headless CMS platforms, Contentful uses its own API to create the editor administrative tool it offers. This means the developers get multiple APIs, an infrastructure to host content, and an editor tool to manage that content. The front end and the delivery channel are all up to the developer to create.
According to Contentful CEO Steve Sloan, web content management, mobile content management, and enterprise content management used to be three totally distinct categories with totally different players. So, Contentful aims to help people understand what a modern content platform is and how it is different than what came before it. CMS as a concept should no longer be as narrow as web-only, on-prem, and single-stack (monolithic) CMS have previously been, but website-rendering engines where a content platform powers websites, a mobile app, kiosks, etc.
- Near 7K websites powered by Contentful
- According to CMS detection service WhatCMS, 4.9% of the Top 1K websites, including Mozilla, Issuu, Trello, Stripe, Snapchat, and Hostgator, are powered by Contentful.
- 50 technical blogs posted on topics ranging from TypeScript to Next.js
- 7,900+ custom apps created with the App Framework
- 56 entries were published to the Developer Showcase
- 7 starter guides created for popular technologies such as Gatsby, Remix, and more.
- Recognized in The Forrester Wave: Agile Content Management Systems
Composable Content Platform Rather than a CMS
When talking about CMS, most users will immediately think of WordPress and other traditional CMS platforms. This is normal, as WordPress has been around for over a decade powering nearly 65% of all the websites that use CMS. In fact, WordPress’popularity relies on the platform’s flexibility to handle any type of website from business websites and eCommerce stores to personal portfolios, blogs, and directories. In addition, WordPress has a passionate community of developers that can help you customize the platform to your liking.
So how is Contentful different than the likes of WordPress? The most significant difference is that Contentful follows a completely different approach. Being a headless solution that allows you to separate the back end and the front end, it extends what you can do with your content and makes it very easy to deliver content to radically different channels without the need to manage the experience by using separate tools and processes for each channel.
You can create and customize each content model depending on what you need by using up to fifty data types. There aren’t any pre-made content models, since Contentful let you define your own without unnecessary content elements.
The platform being API-centric means you can pull data in and out of Contentful using API calls. For a headless CMS, an API is a connector that interprets the logic from the backend and communicates with the frontend layer.
This means, instead of being an out-of-the-box solution, everything is made to be about modularity and composability. You can configure reusable building blocks that support your web application and safely make application changes or recompose the components. The platform will store and deliver content, however, you will craft the applications that fetch data from Contentful via APIs.
Your Data is Delivered as JSON
Fortunately, you don’t need to install plugins to be able to send JSON via Conteful’s API, as this comes built-in. You will be able to access and modify data using API calls, however, for non-techy users, there’s the option to use the Contentful web app that was made for authors to simply edit content more traditionally with a rich-text editor. No matter how you decide to get content into the platform, it will be fetched with an API call.
SDKs for most Programming Languages
The platform provides a content distribution infrastructure so users can benefit from high-speed delivery and service. Here’s how. Contentful is a hosted solution, so your data is stored, processed, and delivered via that infrastructure. When you request data, depending on its type, the CDN will make sure to use the most suitable service available. This way, users will be able to access the data instantaneously.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Contentful offers multiple APIs, GraphQL, a CLI (command-line interface for managing content), as well as a free self-service developer version.
The platform partners with AWS, Gatsby, Netlify, and Optimizely.
It offers the Application Framework, which allows you to create apps that integrate with other systems using their API. For example, if you plug that app directly into Contentful using their Form36 design system, the app will look like it’s natively part of the web admin interface.
The API library offers APIs for creating and managing content and content types; delivering published content; delivering drafts; as well as image transformation API, GaphQL API, and user management API.
You can get content into Contenrful with any third-party API by using the codebase or do it directly via the App Framework.
In addition, it has a straightforward and easy-to-use interface as it follows the content model approach, so you can create your own data structure and then use it without any restrictions on Data Set. It gives you the ability to manage content in multiple languages for websites, apps, and other digital channels.
Other strengths of the platform:
- A great ecosystem of quality apps and a huge community of expert-level developers that support it.
- A reliable autosave feature has your back so if your work gets interrupted for any reason, it will be there where you left it.
- All your data is backed up on two separate servers. In addition, even if any data gets deleted, there’s a 25-day window for recovery.
- The ability to send pushes/notifications to mobile devices.
- Clear separation between content and visual presentation.
- Well-documented SDKs for the most popular programming languages.
- Real-time content editing capability to support team collaboration
Although Contentful offers an amazing experience and freedom for developers, this might not be the case for authors. When developers need to create content models for the authors to use later on, they can’t plan for the exact scales of the content. This is why the developers keep the content model as abstract and approximate as possible. Authors, on the other hand, often find these forms way too confusing and abstract. Separating the content model from the creation of the form makes things more complex.
As a workaround, Contentful is developing Compose. This is an app with a page-centric approach to content creation and editing which allows users to edit and publish all the building blocks of a web page in one place. However, the app is yet to reach the desired level of intuitiveness for authors.
Another challenge we need to mention is the steep learning curve. This applies especially to people migrating from traditional CMS, as the headless approach is quite different and needs some time to get used to. New users may find the platform complex and even overwhelming, with many options that can be difficult to navigate.
In terms of workflow, you might also need to build a custom data set as page linking is not possible.
Other weaknesses of the platform:
- The entry-level plan is limited if you’re looking to get started with headless.
- The 48 content types are limited across all plans except enterprise.
- Sometimes elements are hidden in the pages when you wish to upload or edit specific sections. For example, the title, description, link, or alt attribute) of an image. This process might require too many clicks.
- The search functionality might be too broad, making it hard to find specific elements with exact words.
- It’s more user-friendly and directed toward developers rather than average users and marketers.
- Can’t be installed locally.
Considering going headless? Schedule a meeting with our tech-savvy managers to discuss if Contentful is right for your business.
FAQ About Contentful CMS
👉 Is Contentful a CMS?
Yes. Contentful is a CMS with a headless approach. This means it only handles the backend of a website application, eliminating the presentation layer from its duties. You can handle the front end of your platforms with any frameworks you like (like React, jQuery, Vue.js, etc) while APIs in order to fetch the content from Contentful.
Being a CMS, Contentful has all the tools you need to create content models and reuse or recycle content. What makes it different, however, is the luxury of having a single content hub.
👉 What is the difference between Contentful and CMS?
👉 Should I use headless CMS or traditional CMS?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, however, traditional CMS is the better option for smaller businesses that don’t necessarily have the resources to use headless effectively.
If you have neither a development team nor an external partner, traditional CMS is the better option. Also, if you have a simple website or app that utilizes the in-built functionalities of your traditional CMS, you also don’t need to switch to headless.
However, if you want additional tools that your traditional CMS platform can’t provide, a headless CMS might be better.
Use headless CMS when additional flexibility is needed such as integrating content from one platform to another. For example, if your mobile app needs to be developed with the same content as your web app.
Contentful’s headless architecture makes it possible for big businesses to build powerful content engines.
To Sum Up
The bottom line is Contentful works with all types of content and their presentation layers. You can integrate it with your existing software architecture and distribute your content in an unlimited number of ways with the help of its robust API as well as custom scripts. Both content and content models could be made and updated through the management API so you can employ your custom content management workflow.
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