- Contentful, Explained
- Ghost, Explained
- Ghost vs. Contentful Feature Comparison Chart
- ButterCMS as a Welcomed Alternative
- ButterCMS vs. Ghost vs. Contentful User Comparison Chart
- Final thoughts
Ghost vs. Contentful: Choosing the Right Headless CMS for Your Team
Posted by Chisom Uma on October 17, 2023
Choosing the right CMS can be a bit daunting, especially when there are so many options to choose from. In this article, however, we will be comparing two great headless solutions, Ghost and Contentful, from a developer's perspective. Both CMSs have features that help efficiently create, manage, and distribute content so why compare them from the unique perspective of a developer? You may ask.
Well, developers are undoubtedly important when it comes to the implementation of a headless CMS. Developers are responsible for customizing the CMS to meet the specific needs of the organization (adding or modifying features, creating new user roles and permissions, and integrating with other systems, etc.), as well as website performance optimization, security, and third-party integrations with existing tech stacks via APIs.
Nevertheless, there are some important buying criteria to consider when choosing a headless CMS as a developer that we implore you to keep in mind while reading this comparison. This includes API capabilities, ease of setup, ease of use, ease of admin, speed to launch, native SDKs, ability to purge CDN cache, developer-friendly, seamless migration, and security.
Additionally, since we are comparing these two headless CMSs, it's important to note how ButterCMS presents itself as an alternative to both. ButterCMS is a powerful headless CMS solution with a super intuitive customer-centric dashboard and an API-first approach for modern web development. We will discuss Butter in more detail towards the end of this comparison.
For now, let's dive in and help you decide which CMS is best for your tram.
Table of contents
Contentful refers to itself as a “composable content platform,” meaning that with its platform, you can create, manage, and distribute content to multiple platforms, such as websites, mobile apps, and IoT devices.
Core features of Contentful
Let’s look at some of the core features of Contentful:
Starter Templates: A starter template is a pre-built set of files and directory structures (content model, GitHub repo, and frontend review) that serve as a foundational starting point for a new project. Contentful has a Next.js starter template for marketing, blog, and e-commerce websites. The starter template shows a developer-friendly CMS.
API Set: Another one of its features is its robust API set that provides developers with tools to manage, deliver, and integrate content across various platforms and devices. Contentful's primary API offerings include the Content Delivery API (CDA), Content Management API (CMA), Content Review API, Images API, and GraphQL Content API. Its API set shows it has API capabilities.
Webhooks: Webhooks are a method for one system to provide real-time data to another system as soon as an event occurs. In the context of Contentful, webhooks allow you to receive notifications about events in your Contentful space (e.g. when an entry is published, updated, or deleted).
Localization: Contentful offers powerful localization features, such as multiple locales, localized content fields, translations, and more, via its content management API. Developers can add a new locale, localize fields, edit the default locale, and more. Localization is Contentful is backed by its API capabilities.
Contentful CLI: The Contentful CLI is a tool provided by Contentful to interact with their platform directly from the command line. It's designed to help developers manage their Contentful spaces, content models, data, and other functionalities without having to use the web interface. Having a CLI showcases its developer-friendly nature.
Pros of Contentful
Contentful has several benefits for developers. Let’s take a look at some of these benefits:
Contentful's App Framework allows for integrations between Contentful and third-party services. For instance, developers might build apps that connect Contentful with eCommerce platforms, translation services, or marketing analytics tools. The extendable interface means a developer-friendly platform.
Structured Content Model
In Contentful, developers can define custom content types with fields that match the specific needs of their projects. This ensures that the content aligns with the unique requirements of each application.
Rich Media Management
Contentful offers integrations with Digital Asset Management (DAM) providers such as Bynder, Cloudinary, and Dropbox. This allows developers to handle images, videos, and other media assets via APIs. Automatic image optimizations, transformations, and delivery via a CDN are also natively supported within the platform.
Contentful also allows developers to upload assets manually programmatically using their API.
Contentful provides tools like the Content Management API and the Migration CLI. Developers can automate content migrations, making changing content models or moving content en masse easier. This leads to a developer-friendly environment.
Cons of Contentful
Contentful has disadvantages we should look at:
In Contentful, one of the challenges users encounter pertains to the limitations of its APIs, particularly when leveraging GraphQL. A notable constraint is the inability to perform nested queries in GraphQL. This means that users can't delve into multiple layers deep in a single query, which can limit the depth and breadth of information retrievable in a single request.
The issue of query complexity further exacerbates this limitation. When the system determines that a query is too complex—based on the number of fields requested, the depth of the query, or other factors—it imposes restrictions. This can hinder the flexibility and efficiency one might hope to achieve with GraphQL, requiring multiple simpler queries or alternate methods to retrieve all desired data.
As a result, these API constraints can impede smooth and optimized data retrieval for developers. Negatively impact the API capabilities of a CMS.
Contentful places restrictions on the frequency of API requests (which is currently 7 calls per second) a user or application can make within a specified time frame, known as rate limits. Subsequent requests can be temporarily blocked or delayed if these limits are exceeded. For larger websites or applications that see a lot of traffic or frequently update content, these rate limits can impede, potentially causing slowdowns or interruptions in content delivery or updates. Having this amount of rate limit can negatively affect ease-of-use and speed-to-launch.
Advanced Querying and Filtering
Contentful's query and filtering capabilities are robust but may require developers to write complex queries to retrieve specific subsets of content. This can be time-consuming and may lead to performance challenges for large datasets. This can lead to a negative impact on the speed-to-launch.
Data Import Challenges
A problem developers face with Contentful is the difficulty in importing large amounts of data directly. Instead of having a straightforward built-in tool to manage bulk data imports, developers often find themselves having to craft custom scripts to facilitate these imports via the API.
This means additional work, potential errors, and an increased dependency on technical expertise, making the process less efficient and more complex for those looking to migrate or incorporate large datasets into Contentful.
Vendor lock-in refers to situations where a user or organization becomes overly reliant on a specific product or service, making transitioning to another solution difficult. In the case of Contentful, even though it's a headless CMS designed to provide more flexibility in terms of front-end development, developers can still face challenges when trying to migrate to a different CMS.
This is particularly true if they've made extensive customizations or have deeply integrated their systems with Contentful's APIs. Migrating away would then require significant effort to reconfigure, adapt, or rewrite those integrations and customizations to be compatible with a new platform, making the switch cumbersome and time-consuming for developers. This could hinder a seamless migration process.
Let's take a look at Contentful Pricing.
You can find a more comprehensive overview of Contentful’s pricing structure on their website.
Ghost is mostly referred to as a free and open-source blogging software/platform and a non-profit organization, meaning that customer subscriptions fund it and are not open for sale to investors.
Core features of Ghost
Let’s dive in and look at some of the core features developers should focus on.
Custom Redirects: The "Custom Redirects" feature in Ghost CMS allows you to manage custom 301 and 302 redirects within your website. This feature is particularly useful when redirecting old URLs to new locations due to changes in your content structure, permalink structure, or website restructuring.
Support for Markdown: Markdown is a great way to keep text lightweight and readable. Especially for developers who create technical content with code included. With Ghost, you can create content in markdown format and even create custom markdown cards to improve the authoring experience. Having a CMS with support for markdown prompts a developer-friendly environment.
Ghost CLI: Like Contentful, Ghost also has a CLI tool for managing installations. The CLI tool facilitates the streamlined management and operation of Ghost installations, catering to both new users and advanced developers alike. It offers a suite of commands to run directly on your terminal or command prompt.
Restful JSON API: At its core, Ghost is a self-consuming RESTful JSON API, built with a loosely coupled service-based architecture for flexibility purposes. "RESTful" means it uses a standard way of accessing and updating data over the internet. The term "JSON" signifies that it communicates using a common, easy-to-read data formats. "Self-consuming" highlights that GhostCMS uses its own API for its operations, proving the API's robustness. When we mention "loosely coupled service-based architecture," it's about GhostCMS's design where components work independently but smoothly together. This shows the platform's API capabilities.
Default Handlebars.js Theme: Handlebars.js is a popular templating engine that allows you to build semantic templates effectively. In the context of Ghost, Handlebars are used to create themes that dictate the look, feel, and interactivity of your content. Ghost comes pre-configured to work with Handlebars themes, making it easy for you to build a custom publication without digging into more complex back-end code.
Pros of Ghost
Ghost has several benefits for developers, bloggers, marketers, and businesses. Let’s take a look at some of these benefits:
Support for both SQLite and MySQL
Ghost offers support for both SQLite and MySQL databases. SQLite is lightweight, doesn't require a separate server setup, and is ideal for developers who want a straightforward, file-based database for smaller websites or when starting development.
On the other hand, MySQL is used for larger websites or those expecting higher traffic. Support for SQLite and MySQL shows a developer-friendly CMS.
Ghost uses Markdown for content creation, which is a plain-text formatting syntax. Developers often find Markdown easy to work with, as it allows developers to create technical writing content using a simple and consistent format that can be easily transformed into HTML.
One of Ghost's benefits is its commitment to being bloat-free. Ghost provides only what's necessary, leading to cleaner code, better performance, and fewer potential points of failure. This could potentially lead to faster loading times and optimized server resources (RAM and CPU).
Built-in SEO Tools for Developers
Ghost includes built-in SEO features like automatic XML sitemaps, canonical tags, and clean HTML markup. These features simplify SEO optimization for developers building a blog website.
Cons of Ghost
Let’s quickly look at some of Ghost’s disadvantages.
Smaller Plugin Ecosystem
Ghost is known for its simplicity and sleekness. However, when compared to some of the older or more established CMS platforms like Contentful, Ghost's ecosystem doesn't have as vast an array of plugins and add-ons. A smaller plugin ecosystem negatively impacts a developer-friendly environment.
Faults with its Open-Source System
While Ghost offers an open-source system, it has obvious downsides. It’s either you are really tech-savvy, or you have to rely heavily on experienced developers. If anything goes wrong with your site or content, developers have to figure out a way to fix it (not so fun for developers), as Ghost does not have a dedicated customer service for their open-source subscription.
You also have to pay for web hosting, so it’s not entirely “free.” You can use the Ghost PRO plan if the issues with its open-source are a huge challenge for you.
No Official Page Builder
Ghost is primarily designed for blogging. Users have reported that it doesn't come with a native page builder. If you're looking to build complex, dynamic layouts, you might need to integrate other tools or write custom code. Developers should be focused on other implementations rather than always building custom codes.
Limited Website Functionality
Ghost has some issues in terms of website functionality when compared to more comprehensive CMS platforms. This is because Ghost is focused on blogging and publishing of articles. If you are looking to expand your website's capabilities beyond blogging, such as adding e-commerce features, custom data fields, or complex user interactions, Ghost might not be the best option for you unless your focus is creating blog content as part of your marketing strategy.
Developers might also find themselves constrained if they wish to scale or pivot their website into more complex areas. The result? An unhappy user/developer who later realized they needed to scale up their website or include more customized features.
Limited Multi-Language Support
Out of the box, Ghost doesn't provide comprehensive multi-language support for content. If you're trying to build a multilingual site or create multilingual content, you'll need to rely on third-party integrations or custom development (extra work for developers). This could mean more development time and costs and slower time-to-market. Limited multi-language support leads to a negative impact on speed-to-lunch.
Here is a breakdown of Ghost’s pricing
For a more comprehensive overview of Ghost’s pricing structure, visit the website.
Ghost vs. Contentful Feature Comparison Chart
ButterCMS as a Welcomed Alternative
As discussed earlier, ButterCMS is a great option, and it is important to discuss what makes it stand out when discussing Ghost and Contentful CMS as solutions to consider.
ButterCMS is an API-first headless CMS. The platform is cloud-based, and even non-coders can get started without the need for technical expertise. ButterCMS offers several powerful features for developers and enterprises, including its out-of-the-box blog engine, flexible content models, customizable templates, and SEO optimization tools for marketers.
How ButterCMS stands out
Here is how ButterCMS stands out from the Ghost and Contentful.
ButterCMS has a simple, user-friendly interface, and getting started with a CMS has never been easier with ButterCMS. According to Bob Lauer | Director of Engineering at Lambda School, “Butter was by far the easiest to get set up. The integration was super straightforward, and the development was a breeze, and porting over our existing blog posts was no problem. The documentation was really good.”
Once you create your account, you are welcomed to the visually appealing interface that is easy to explore and navigate. Developers can easily integrate ButterCMS with any front-end framework via ButterCMS read or write APIs without any difficulty.
Speed to Launch
While some CMS platforms like Contentful are known for a steep learning curve, often requiring extensive setup and configuration. ButterCMS offers a streamlined process that allows developers to integrate and deploy rapidly. This means businesses can get their content live faster, without the typical delays associated with more complex systems. A great example is ButterCMS helping Scripted migrate and launch a new blog in “less than a week”. See case study.
The intuitive interface and developer-friendly tools further enhance the quick launch capability, making it a preferred choice for those aiming to decrease time-to-market.
Tech stack breadth
ButterCMS’s API-first architecture makes it easy to connect or use any tech-stack of your choice. With ButterCMS API, content marketers can create compelling blog posts, landing pages, SEO pages, product marketing pages, and many more. ButterCMS also provides SDK support for 29 various languages and frameworks.
Let’s not even forget the fact that ButterCMS lets you connect and develop with any popular web development framework of your choice, such as Android, IOS, Angular, Django, Express.js, Flutter, Gatsby.js, Gridsome, React, and many more. An awesome capability you can’t get from using Ghost.
It doesn't just end there. ButterCMS introduced support for the Spring Framework. A “powerful and widely used Java-based framework for building robust web applications. With ButterCMS’s Spring support, you can seamlessly integrate our CMS into your Spring-powered projects, taking advantage of its extensive features and flexibility.” This shows ButterCMS powerful API capabilities.
Built-in blog engine
ButterCMS has an in-built headless blog engine that can be seamlessly integrated into any tech-stack of your choice to help you create high-quality blog content. The blog engine has optimized SEO out-of-the-box and a WYSIWYG editor to improve the authoring experience of developers and marketers. This feature makes ButterCMS stand out against Ghost and Contentful. This makes ButterCMS a flexible and easy-to-use platform.
ButterCMS ensures smooth and hassle-free migrating of content and data from one platform to ButterCMS. This feature eliminates the typical challenges and disruptions associated with content migrations, allowing developers to effortlessly switch to ButterCMS without losing valuable data or facing downtime. ButterCMS lets developers migrate a page type or collection, which can be seamlessly integrated into your production environment when ready. This is evident in the Lambda case study, where ButterCMS helped them seamlessly migrate their blog from Medium to their own website in two days (See case study). ButterCMS offers seamless migration. An important buying criteria to look out for.
Drag and drop component functionality
ButterCMS lets you re-order an entire section as well as the structure of a page when creating landing pages by dragging and dropping components seamlessly. This functionality makes it easy for developers to move or reorganize components when building a landing page for a website. The drag-and-drop functionality makes it easy to build landing pages faster, fostering speed-to-launch.
Built-in Version History
ButterCMS lets you view and restore prior version histories out-of-the-box. This feature is very important for developers, especially when working with team members. Without a version history functionality, important information can be erased when creating content and is hard to recover. Unfortunately, Ghost CMS does not offer a built-in version history functionality. Although, Contentful also has this feature.
Security and compliance
Data on Contentful is hosted on AWS data centers, a very serious commitment to ensuring user data safety. ButterCMS follows leading industry standards and certificates for ensuring security and compliance with regulations. This includes, SOC 1, SOC 2/SSAE, ISO 27001, PCI Level 1, Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), and FISMA Moderate. What else? ButterCMS ensures your data is backed up daily. ButterCMS offers strong security, an important buying criteria for developers.
Closed Sourced & Fully Hosted
ButterCMSs closed and fully hosted software offers the advantage of streamlined management and reduced operational complexity for users. A close-sourced system offers added security for developer code, as a result, there is less risk of hacking and vulnerabilities.
Most closed-source platforms offer better support for their platform, and ButterCMS does exceptionally well at that. This is good for developers who might run into issues during migration, API integration, or any type of issues. This brings added security to the CMS platform.
The API Explorer is a tool in ButterCMS that demonstrates how to retrieve various types of content from its API. It offers examples of API requests, displays the corresponding responses, and generates code snippets that you can use to experiment with fetching content programmatically. This tool simplifies the process of understanding the API structure, testing different queries, and integrating the fetched data into your own applications.
Enhanced WYSIWYG Experience
ButterCMS makes provision for an enhanced content editing and creation experience:
Enhanced Code Editor: Developers now have access to a robust code editing experience directly within ButterCMS. This feature includes features like highlighting code syntax, providing auto-completion suggestions, and options for formatting code. This benefits both developers and content creators, helping them work more efficiently and accurately.
Export Functionality: Developers can export their content in various formats, such as HTML, PDF, and Word documents. This is a handy feature if you are creating downloadable content/resources collaborating with external bodies who need content in a preferred format.
ButterCMS vs. Ghost vs. Contentful User Comparison Chart
This section compares the general user ratings between ButterCMS, Ghost, and Contentful based on feedback from G2.
As you can see, ButterCMS is rated highest in all major categories.
While all three solutions have their advantages and disadvantages, ButterCMS stands out as an excellent alternative for those seeking both a robust CMS solution and a ready-to-use plug-and-play blog engine. Additionally, ButterCMS comes packed with other powerful features SDK support for several frameworks and languages, seamless integrations, collaboration tools, customizable content types, and more.
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