Contentful vs Netlify CMS which should you pick?

For the longest time, most Content Management Systems(CMS) have relied on a backend to drive everything. Content is stored in a database and whenever a user hits a page the content is fetched and rendered based on a template.

There have been different iterations of this mostly to improve loading speeds. For example, CDNs prerendering and storing the output to later serve it to users. Also, development teams generate all of the web assets (HTML and CSS) through a build process and upload that to the server.

More recently these solutions have become more refined and branded under names such as JAMStack or headless CMS.

JAMStack which is an abbreviation for Javascript, APIs, and markdown is used to refer to any content site that has its content stored as markdown files and interactivity and functionality pulled from APIs using Javascript. These APIs are mostly third-party services such Disqus for adding comments. The idea is to build a content site without a backend.

A Headless CMS is a JAMstack site with a content management area like you get with Wordpress

Both Contentful and Netlify CMS are headless CMSs with a few differences.For one Contentful is fully API driven whereas Netlify CMS relys on Git and Github for content storage.

In the case of Contentful, this means your content is stored in a database somewhere. Netlify stores your content as markdown files in a Github repository you provide.

👉 Features

Both provide enough features you need to run a successful CMS system.

Here are a few things both options provide:

  • Content versioning
  • Content preview
  • Customizable Admin interface
  • Content Internationalization

When it comes to user roles and management Contentful provides you the option to assign different roles such as super admin access and editor-only roles to several users whereas Netlify CMS allows access to multiple team members roles are not clearly defined and require a bit of tweaking.

Contentful allows for scheduling content publishing for a later date something Netlify CMS does not provide out of the box.

Given that Netlify CMS is completely open source you can add and tweak existing features. Contentful is closed source which means for the most part you are limited by what is available to you. You however have the option to make a few changes through extensions.

Both of these CMSes focus more on the admin part of your site leaving you with the option to pick whichever static site generator(SSG) you will like to use for your frontend.

You can pick from the many static site generators out there.

👉 How do they compare regarding ease of use?

Setting up the frontend for both options requires an equal amount of work. With Contentful you will need to write code to pull in the content from their APIs.

When it comes to the admin side of things, everything happens right on Contentful regarding setting up. Although most things happen on Netlify you will need a Github account and for some changes, you will have to make them directly to that repository.

👉 How they compare in pricing

Netlify CMS is open source and free to use, however, if you host your site on Netlify you will incur a cost as your traffic scales up. Also, some of its hosting features are available under the paid tier.

Contentful provides a free tier with a paid tier based on features, traffic, and team size.

👉 Non-Technical editor friendliness

If your team comprises non-technical editors and writers, having a GUI interface where they can work on content without needing to figure out deployment pipelines or deal with markdown files is very helpful.

Both Netlify and Contentful admin panel provides an easy-to-use content editor.

The Netlify Admin portal is on the basic/lightweight side.

👉 Teams and roles

Netlify Roles

Contentful provides an easy way to manage multiple users of your CMS without much hassle.

Netlify CMS allows you to signup multiple users using the Netlify Identity system all users however have the same access rights.

👉 Extension support

Contentful extension

You can extend your CMS setup using plugins and functions on Netlify.

You can extend your Contentful admin panel using extensions.

When it comes to the frontend you can extend it as much as the static site generator you pick will allow.

👉 Content Ownership

Contentful serves content through an API which means the content is saved in its database. They do provide the option to have everything setup on your own server as an enterprise customer.

Since Netlify CMS relies on your Github for content storage you have full access to your content.

🏁 So which should you use?

Picking one over the other depends on your needs.

If you are building a simple blog where a lot is likely to change I will say go with Netlify CMS as it's open source and you can take it in whichever direction you want. Also contentful comes with a bit of a price tag the moment you start scaling and this might not entirely work for you if your content system is not geared towards profit from the very start.

If you however need a system with good support and constantly growing in features, I will say go with Contentful as its headless CMS is its main business compared to Netlify CMS which is a way for Netlify to grow its hosting business.

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