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Sanity vs. Contentful - Which Headless CMS is Best?

Posted by Maab Saleem on October 10, 2023

To thrive in today's fast-paced digital landscape, you need a flexible, scalable, and performant CMS. One that swiftly delivers omnichannel content to your readers. A CMS that fosters collaboration among your developers, content creators, and thought leaders; and allows you to build a unified content repository, and seamlessly connect it to all your digital touchpoints. Enter the headless CMS.

A headless CMS allows you to decouple your content backend from the presentation layer. It leverages a central content repository and APIs to deliver content across all platforms and devices. No need to duplicate efforts or reinvent the wheel. Enjoy streamlined content delivery without compromising efficiency.

When choosing a headless CMS for your business, there are important buying criteria to keep in mind. Firstly, you must consider ease of use, i.e. how intuitive is the user interface? Does it have a steep learning curve? Does it offer native support for your favorite programming frameworks?

Another crucial factor is the speed of core features, like migrations, integrations, editing, and testing. A headless CMS should enable you to manage content with minimal effort and time. You should also assess the pricing structure of the CMS and make sure it fits within your budget.

Customizability is another key aspect. Look for a headless CMS that gives you the flexibility to build experiences that are truly aligned with your brand identity. Finally, assess whether the unique features of the CMS match your specific needs, or provide added value to your content management workflow.

In this article, we will compare Sanity and Contentful, two popular headless CMS platforms, while keeping in mind the buying criteria mentioned above. However, it’s important to note that ButterCMS is a compelling alternative to both Sanity and Contentful. With an expansive array of features, ButterCMS effectively caters to the diverse requirements of developers and marketers alike.

Therefore, we will also be evaluating ButterCMS in this article. By the end, we expect you to have a well-rounded perspective to guide your selection process and find the best CMS solution for your business.

Sanity explained

Sanity is a composable content cloud that enables businesses to build composable, customizable, and data-driven content architectures.

It’s powered by a schema-less data store that lets you store JSON documents, without having to define a schema beforehand. You can query data using the proprietary GROQ (Graph-relational Object Queries) language, and subscribe to runtime changes in stored documents.

The open-source Sanity Studio connects with the content lake and offers a seamless, customizable editing experience to your content creators. You can use the Studio to build applications from scratch or use one of the many pre-built templates to get a head start. Templates are available for a variety of frameworks, including Next.js, Astro, and Angular.

Sanity offers several clients, tools, and plugins to enhance the development experience. There are API clients for JavaScript, Rust, PHP, Go, and more. Useful tools like scheduled publishing and a media browser are also available on the Sanity ecosystem. You can even build custom plugins for adding functionalities tailored to your specific needs.

Contentful, explained

Contentful is a composable content platform that excels in customizability, composability, and scalability. With a range of content modeling patterns, it allows organizations to structure and manage their content according to their personalized needs.

The Contentful Studio is packed with a host of useful features for automating content workflows, collaboration, and omnichannel experiences. Contentful also offers third-party orchestration (albeit, through an early access program currently) that allows you to import content from external systems into the CMS.

Contentful supports numerous languages and frameworks, including JavaScript, PHP, Python, .NET, and Ruby. Sample applications, tutorials, demos, and starter kits are also available for all supported platforms.

The Contentful marketplace is home to plugins and tools that can be used to build a feature-rich content delivery system. Whether you want to incorporate an AI content generator, compare and merge content models, or implement Elasticsearch, you can find a tool on the marketplace to do so.

Sanity vs Contentful Key Differences Chart

Features Sanity  Contentful
Hosting Cloud-based or Self-hosted Cloud-based
Editor Experience
WYSIWYG Editor No Yes
Scheduled Publishing Yes Yes
Previews Yes Yes
Version History Yes Yes
Workflow Yes   Yes
Drag and Drop reordering No  No
Multilingual content Yes Yes
Scheduled Unpublishing Yes Yes
Plug n Play Blog Engine No No
In-app image editing yes Yes
Team Management
Team Presence No No
User Roles  Yes Yes
Custom User Roles Yes Yes
Multi environment Yes Yes
Developer Experience
Client libraries
Yes Yes
REST API Yes Yes
CLI  Yes Yes
Image API Yes Yes
Webhooks Yes Yes
Migrations Yes Yes
Security and Compliance
SSO Yes Yes
Encryption
Yes Yes
ISO 27001 Yes Yes
PCI DSS Yes Yes
GDPR Yes Yes
Backups Yes Yes

Core features of Sanity

Sanity offers a diverse range of features to help you create, manage, and deliver content. Let’s explore some of these key features:

  • The Sanity Studio: A collaborative application that auto-generates an editing environment based on user-defined content models. The studio comes with several built-in features, like document versioning, conditional fields, AI-powered automation, custom workflows, and more. Whether you want to implement document-level validation, install third-party tools or create your own, or implement access control for documents, the Sanity Studio allows you to do so.
  • Real-time content collaboration: The Sanity Studio allows multiple people to work on the same content, in real-time, without overwriting each other’s changes, or locking each other out. It also offers features like document history, tracking, and rollback.
  • Localization: Sanity supports localization at the field and document levels. Field-level localization allows you to store content for different languages in the same document. Document-level localization allows you to create unique documents for each language. The @sanity/document-internationalization and internationalized-array plugins can be used to implement document and field-level localization respectively.
  • Precise content querying: GROQ is a query language that allows you to precisely define the information you need from your Sanity data. You can execute GROQ queries directly from the frontend, using the JavaScript client. GROQ queries can be used to filter by document type, add joins, slice result sets, or perform projections. For example, you could use a GROQ query to get all of the blog posts that were published in the past month or to get all of the products that fall under a particular category.
  • The Content Lake: Sanity's Content Lake is a managed, cloud-based content storage and distribution platform. It allows you to create multiple datasets, import content to existing datasets, and perform mutations to any stored documents. You can access the lake through a client library or directly over HTTP to deliver content to all your devices and platforms.
  • Portable text: Sanity's Portable Text is a lightweight, schema-free format that you can use to share and reuse your content. Depending on the requirements of your applications, you can use the available serializers to render content into the desired output. For example, there are serializers available for Portable Text to HTML, React, Vue, Markdown, and Astro.
  • Security & compliance: Sanity complies with security frameworks like SOC 2 Type 1, GDPR, and PCI DSS. It runs on Google Cloud, supports authentication via Google Accounts and GitHub, and offers encryption, both at rest and in transit.
  • Built with React.js: Sanity is built on top of React, which allows developers to use React's familiar component-based architecture to build and customize frontend interfaces. Sanity also works well with famous React frameworks, like Next.js and Gatsby. Moreover, Sanity offers a number of React-based templates that can help you get started quickly. These templates include everything you need to build a fully-functional web application, including the Sanity data model, the React components, and the styling.

Pros and cons of Sanity

Pros of Sanity

Sanity offers several advantages that may make it a compelling choice for content management:

Easy to customize data structure

Sanity's data model is highly customizable, allowing you to tailor it to the specific needs of your business. You can store structured content in the Sanity database, and use it to build different parts of your frontend. Structured content scales well, reduces complexity, and leads to a better content strategy.

For example, the content used for a news article can be reused in the body of a social media post, email newsletter, or even a blog post. This can save a lot of time and effort, as you don’t have to create the content from scratch each time.

Custom integrations

Sanity allows developers to create custom input components that can fetch data from external sources and import it into internal documents. This imported data can then be referenced from inside the Content Lake. Developers can also write their own custom plugins to implement desired functionality or integrate with an unsupported third-party service. 

Generous free tier

Sanity offers a generous free forever plan that includes a hosted content database, free admin users, and an open-source editing environment. It serves as a great way for small businesses to get started and scale up as their needs grow.

Large selection of plugins

Sanity boasts a diverse ecosystem of plugins that can be used to extend its functionality. This allows you to add new features to your application without having to write any code. For example, you can seamlessly integrate Sanity with Giphy, Netlify, Bynder, and more.

Learn how ButterCMS can revolutionize your content management.
Start my free trial

Cons of Sanity

While Sanity has numerous strengths, it also lacks in certain areas:

No WYSIWYG editor

Sanity doesn’t have a built-in WYSIWYG editor. Users who are accustomed to working with WYSIWYG editors may find Sanity less intuitive or convenient.

Lagging developer documentation

Sanity's developer documentation is not as comprehensive as other CMSs. This can make it difficult to find information on how to use certain features.

GROQ learning curve

Even though GROQ offers powerful querying capabilities, it does come with a steep learning curve. Developers who are unfamiliar with the language may need to dedicate time and effort to understand its syntax, semantics, and best practices.

Sanity pricing

Sanity offers four plans for businesses, without any up-front fees. The following table compares the key aspects of the four plans:

Plan

Features

Users and usage

Price

Free

Sanity Studio, hosted infrastructure, content lake, unlimited users, real-time editing, global CDN, live preview, GROQ support.

3 non-admin users, 2 datasets, 100K API requests/month, and 10 GB bandwidth/month.

Free + pay-as-you-go for add-ons.

Team

All features of the free plan, along with: scheduled publishing.

10 non-admin users, 4 datasets, 500K API requests/month, and 500 GB bandwidth/month.

$99 per project/month.

Business

All features of the Team plan, along with: cloud cloning, full audit trail, and single sign-on (SSO).

20 non-admin users, 6 datasets, 2 million API requests/month, and 1 TB bandwidth/month.

$949 per project/month.

Enterprise

All features of the Business plan, along with: dataset hot swap, shared content, access logs, unlimited test projects, custom CDN domains, custom access control, and 24/7 support.

Custom

Contact Sanity for pricing.

Core features of Contentful

Let’s explore some of the key features of Contentful:

  • The Contentful Studio: A web application to manage omnichannel content for your business. The Contentful Studio offers several features including live previews, AI-generated content, SEO, and synchronized publishing. You can also extend the studio by integrating with applications from the marketplace. Whether you want to set up layered content workflows, automate image tagging using AI, or view analytics data from Google Analytics, the Studio allows you to do so.
  • App framework: A framework that allows you to integrate external applications with Contentful to extend its functionality. Using the app framework, you can integrate with popular third-party apps, like BigCommerce, Bynder, and Jenkins.
  • Support for locales and localization: Contentful supports seamless localization through locales. You can add a locale from the web-based dashboard, or programmatically via the API. Localization plugins, like EasyTranslate and Linguiny are also available on the marketplace.
  • Omnichannel content distribution: Contentful empowers you to implement an efficient omnichannel content strategy. Whether it's your website, mobile applications, or even mall kiosks, Contentful ensures seamless, consistent, and synchronized content delivery.
  • Starter templates: Templates (for blogs, e-commerce, and marketing websites) are a great way to quickly get started with Contentful. Starter templates include everything you need to get up and running, including the content model, a GitHub repository, and a frontend preview.
  • APIs: Contentful's comprehensive set of APIs allows you to programmatically manage different aspects of the content ecosystem. There are separate APIs for content delivery, content management, content preview, images, user management, and SCIM.
  • Custom applications: The Contentful App framework provides a set of tools and APIs to simplify the process of building and deploying custom applications. For example, you may develop a custom editor application or an automation application that automates the scheduling of content tasks.
  • Security & hosting: Contentful is aligned with the ISO 27001:2013 international standard, which ensures that adequate measures are taken to enforce security controls and mitigate risk. The platform supports encryption at rest and in transit. To further ensure security, Contentful undergoes regular penetration tests and assessments conducted by external auditors. The Contentful team uses AWS GuardDuty for active threat response and leverages auto-scalable Kubernetes for high availability.
  • CDN: Contentful uses Fastly as the CDN for JSON documents, and CloudFront as the CDN for media assets and binary files. The use of two different CDNs allows Contentful to efficiently handle different content types, and deliver them to end-users with enhanced performance.

Pros and cons of Contentful

Pros of Contentful

Here are a few advantages of choosing Contentful as your headless CMS:

Pre-built templates

Using pre-built templates can increase your operational efficiency, enabling you to build applications or features faster. For example, if you want to add a store to your website, you can leverage the e-commerce starter template instead of building from scratch.

Platform flexibility

Contentful is built with flexibility in mind, empowering you to tailor the platform to your unique requirements. Whether you want to integrate with third-party tools, extend the Studio application, or design responsive and engaging frontends, Contentful provides the tools and capabilities to make it happen.

Mature marketplace and ecosystem

Contentful's ecosystem offers a wide range of resources that can help you enhance your content management experience. With an active community of developers and agencies, you can easily find the help you need to get started or troubleshoot any issues.

The Contentful marketplace offers a plethora of apps, across various categories such as AI, commerce, and collaboration, that enable you to go beyond the built-in Contentful functionalities and build more engaging content. 

Channel-agnostic system

Contentful is channel-agnostic, which means that you can deliver your content to a wide variety of channels, including websites, mobile apps, conversational interfaces, and kiosks. This empowers you to maintain a unified brand experience while catering to the unique needs of each channel.

Cons of Contentful

For all its strengths, Contentful also has a few drawbacks that you should consider.

No drag and drop component functionality

Contentful lacks native drag-and-drop functionality for creating content, which can be a drawback for users who prefer a visual and intuitive approach.

No collaborative editing

Contentful does not support collaborative real-time editing. This means that if you and another team member are editing the same document, you will not be able to see each other's changes in real-time. This could lead to conflicts and collaboration challenges. 

Steep learning curve

Contentful has a steep learning curve. There are several concepts (e.g. content model, spaces and organizations etc.) unique to the Contentful platform that new users must understand to leverage it to its fullest.

Configuration can quickly become complex

Contentful is a flexible platform, which means that it can be configured to meet a wide range of requirements. However, this flexibility can also lead to complexity. For example, if you need to create complex content models or integrate Contentful with several other systems, you may need to do some custom development. This can add to the overall cost and complexity of your project.

Another factor that can contribute to complexity is the platform’s steep learning curve. While Contentful has a lot of unique features, and it generally takes a good chunk of time to learn how to use them effectively. If you don't understand the concepts behind Contentful, e.g. if you don't know how to treat your content as data, you may find it difficult to build and maintain a large Contentful project.

No out-of-the-box blog engine

Contentful does not come with built-in a blog engine. If you want to create a blog with Contentful, you will need to use a third-party blog engine or build one from scratch.

Pricing quickly escalates

While Contentful offers a free tier and flexible pricing plans, costs can escalate as the scale and usage of the platform increase.

Contentful pricing

Contentful offers three plans for businesses, each with its own set of features and benefits. The following table compares the key characteristics of the three plans:

Plan

Features

Users and usage

Price

Free

Community-based support, Tasks app, Compose app, developer Slack community, client libraries, content delivery API, image API, sync API, encryption at rest, 24/7 monitoring, and more.

5 users, 4 standard roles, 2 locales, 1,000,000 API calls per month, 0.1 TB/month bandwidth.

Free.

Basic

All free features, along with: technical support, Launch app, and support for commenting on fields.

20 users, 4 standard roles, 4 locales, 2,000,000 API calls per month, 0.75 TB/month bandwidth.

$300 per month.

Premium

All Basic features, along with: compliance, security, and governance features, customizable roles, reference view, custom aliases, Single sign-on (SSO), user management API, SCIM provisioning, security reporting, dedicated infrastructure, and more.

Custom

Contact Contentful for pricing.

ButterCMS as a welcomed alternative 

While Sanity and Contentful are both powerful CMSs, they each come with their own distinct strengths and weaknesses. If you find yourself struggling to choose the right platform, or compromising on certain aspects, there’s an alternative worth considering: ButterCMS.

ButterCMS combines the best features of both platforms, without any of the drawbacks. It is a scalable, API-first headless CMS that both marketers and developers have rated as the “easiest-to-use” on G2. It simplifies multi-channel and multi-site content management, provides a globally cached API, and offers maximum customizability.

Let’s explore other reasons why ButterCMS could be the ideal headless CMS for your business.

What makes ButterCMS the ideal alternative?

Ease of use

ButterCMS is officially the easiest-to-use headless CMS out there, with user reviews to back it up. You can manage all your content types from a central dashboard, and easily organize your data across pages and collections.

Whether you want to preview changes, maintain review history, create dynamic landing pages without developer input, or manage all your assets with a centralized media library, ButterCMS enables you to do so.

ButterCMS also provides an exceptional developer experience. You can configure webhooks to receive change notifications, use the API explorer to view API responses and get sample code, and migrate across ButterCMS environments in minutes.

Speed to launch

A component-driven architecture, starter kits, integrations with popular tools, built-in SEO, and comprehensive tutorials increase productivity and decrease your time to market.

Built-in blog engine

ButterCMS comes with a pre-built blog engine which makes it super convenient to add a blog to your website. Unlike Contentful, there's no need to do any custom wiring or build from scratch.

Drag and drop functionality

Smooth drag-and-drop features empower your marketers to build flexible and beautiful pages without knowing how to code, or worrying about breaking anything.

Seamless migrations

ButterCMS makes migrations easy, whether you're migrating from a traditional CMS to Butter or migrating your content and schema between Butter sites and environments. 

For example, to migrate from WordPress to ButterCMS, all you need to do is send a WordPress export file to support@buttercms.com

Or, to migrate content schema from a staging to a production instance on Butter, all you need to do is navigate a simple, 4-step migration wizard. The wizard will walk you through the process of migrating your schema, and you'll be up and running in no time.

Built-in version history

With ButterCMS, you can track content changes and revert to previous versions of your content with a single click. This is a great way to ensure that your content is always up-to-date and accurate.

Tech stack breadth

ButterCMS is more interoperable than both Sanity and Contentful. It is compatible with a wider range of technologies, including JavaScript, Express.js, Next.js, React, React Native, iOS, Android, Kotlin, and several others.

Team presence

The team presence feature (not available in Contentful) lets you know if any of your colleagues are viewing the same content as you on ButterCMS. This ensures that you are always in sync with others, and reduces the chances of conflicts and data loss.

Security and compliance

ButterCMS takes security and compliance seriously. The platform and your data are hosted on AWS data centers, which adhere to industry-leading standards, including ISO 27001, SOC 1, SOC 2/SSAE, PCI Level 1, FISMA Moderate, and Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX). Additionally, your data is automatically backed up daily, ensuring its safety and providing peace of mind.

Learn how ButterCMS can revolutionize your content management.
Start my free trial

ButterCMS vs Sanity vs Contentful User comparison chart

In this section, we will compare the user ratings of ButterCMS, Sanity, and Contentful on G2. G2 is a leading software review platform, and its user ratings are based on real-world feedback from actual users.

Criterion

Rating (# of responses)

 

ButterCMS

Sanity

Contentful

Meets requirements

9.1 (110)

9.1 (466)

8.5 (202)

Ease of use

9.3 (109)

8.8 (470)

8.4 (204)

Ease of setup

9.2 (67)

8.8 (364)

8.2 (92)

Ease of admin

9.2 (68)

9.1 (369)

8.4 (96)

Quality of support

9.7 (108)

9.0 (369)

8.4 (165)

Has the product been a good partner in doing business?

9.7 (67)

9.3 (320)

8.5 (87)

Product direction (% positive)

9.1 (95)

9.2 (375)

7.4 (190)

The above table compares the G2 user feedback for the three platforms. Overall, ButterCMS has the highest ratings across most criteria. Sanity is a close second, and Contentful has the lowest ratings.

Closing thoughts

In conclusion, when comparing the headless CMS platforms ButterCMS, Sanity, and Contentful, it becomes clear that ButterCMS stands out as the most feature-rich and user-friendly option. With its diverse set of features and high ratings on G2 across different categories, ButterCMS offers a comprehensive solution for content management needs. Its user-friendly interface and extensive functionality make it a top choice for businesses and developers alike. 

Do you want your product or marketing team to test Butter CMS? We can set up a live demo to walk your team through the fast, easy-to-use interface.

Make sure you receive the latest tutorials and Butter product updates directly in your inbox.
    
Maab Saleem

Maab is an experienced software engineer who specializes in explaining technical topics to a wider audience.

ButterCMS is the #1 rated Headless CMS

G2 crowd review award G2 crowd review award G2 crowd review award G2 crowd review award G2 crowd review award G2 crowd review award G2 crowd review award G2 crowd review award G2 crowd review award G2 crowd review award G2 crowd review award G2 crowd review award

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