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Thoughts on the State of the Headless CMS Market in 2018


by Petr Palas

Jun 20, 2018

We’ve just published the industry’s first report on the State of the Headless CMS Market. And we have to admit, some of the results surprised us. However, we didn’t want to mix facts and opinions, so we have kept the report purely factual. In this blog post, we offer our biased opinions supported by gut feeling and anecdotal evidence.

#1: No big surprise: 86% are positive about headless

I still remember the moment when I first heard the term “headless CMS” a few years ago. My first thought was, “Wow, that may solve so many issues people face with a traditional CMS!” 

It took several years for the idea of headless to spread, and even now, only 55% of respondents knew what a headless CMS was.

Still, those who understand the concept seem to fall in love at first sight: According to our report, 47% of respondents who knew headless CMS love the idea, and 39% said they liked the idea, but it had its limitations.

What do you think of the headless CMS idea?


The love element isn’t a big surprise—many people struggle with traditional CMSs and they see headless CMS as redemption. 

They want higher flexibility (47%), lightweight websites (44%), and faster development (35%)—things they’re missing with a traditional CMS. 

However, the #1 motivation is to have one place for content for various applications – 48%. As the number of channels and devices keeps growing, people realize they need a centralized content hub instead of managing content in silos, which lead to inconsistencies and hinder everybody’s productivity.

Why do you use or plan to use a headless CMS?

#2: The big surprise: 29% already use headless—or at least, they think they do

Although we’re strong proponents of headless CMS, we were shocked to see that 29% already use a headless CMS. Sounds great, right? Not so quickly! Before you start making assumptions about how a headless CMS wins the market, you should dig a little deeper.

When do you plan to use a headless CMS?


First of all, there’s a huge confusion about the headless CMS term. Now that every traditional CMS vendor claims to be “also headless”, many people think that using an API means going headless. 

In fact, about one-third of people who claim to use a headless CMS said they used a headless variant of a traditional CMS, such as WordPress or Drupal. That’s the equivalent of buying a hybrid car and saying “I drive an electric car now!” 

You can read more on what makes a true headless CMS here.

The other thing is that (based mostly on our anecdotal evidence) many customers aren’t replacing their traditional CMS yet. Many are just doing their first proof-of-concept projects, often starting with a simple microsite.

Our estimate is that the actual number of people who already deploy a headless CMS as a replacement for a traditional CMS on a company-wide level is still below 10 % of CMS deployments

From the technology adoption perspective, we believe the headless CMS market is now in the Early Adopters stage and it will be interesting to see how quickly it crosses the chasm to the Early Majority. And we have no doubts it will make it to the other side! It’s just a matter of time.

Technology adoption perspective

#3: Mixed feelings: Half of respondents still hosting on their own servers

44% of respondents say they host their websites or applications on their own servers and an additional 20% use a private cloud. 

Where do you host your website and/or applications?


It’s not necessarily a big surprise, but I always have mixed feelings when someone tries to explain to me why they absolutely need to run their site on their own servers. 

While there will always be some customers who do need to run their own servers, I can’t imagine how these organizations can justify the time, money, and cost of missed opportunity for running their own servers.

(You can read more about the benefits of a true SaaS CMS here.)

#4: Shock: Self-hosted open source over SaaS

What really struck us was 63% of respondents who still preferred an open source (headless) CMS hosted by themselves :(

Come on, guys! It’s 2018, and we live in the age of cloud and APIs!

Which of the headless CMS models do you prefer?


Now, you might think, “sure, you’re selling a SaaS CMS, so you want everybody to buy it.” 

That’s true, but business aside, I’ve always looked at true SaaS headless CMS as that mythical Prometheus that brings a dream solution to developers and content creators that will make them so much more productive and unlock their creativity. 

Unfortunately, it seems many people got stuck in “I want to have full ownership and control of everything.” 

After all, many previously were locked in a cage of some proprietary CMS software that put constraints on how they built their applications.

However, the concept of microservices changes all of that. Now that you can use CMS as a service, you can build your applications your way. And, you can relatively easily switch to another API if the CMS fails to meet your expectations or gets too costly.

Our view: hosting a CMS yourself just adds to your headaches (remember Drupalgeddon?), and having its source code won’t set you free. It’s time to switch to an API-first mindset if you want to achieve the agility required in today’s fast-paced world.

Conclusion: An industry at the Beginning of a Major Transition

Overall, the report illustrates the current state of the whole CMS industry: it’s an industry at the crossroads. 

The cloud-first headless CMS represents the biggest disruption to this industry in the past 15 years. And the transition to the new model isn’t going to be smooth. 

The switch to a cloud-first headless CMS requires a significant change in mindset—for both developer and content professionals. Something that won’t happen overnight. 

Our advice: make your own opinion! Try a true cloud-first headless CMS for a proof-of-concept project and see how it works for you!

P.S.: If you haven’t seen the full report yet, click here.