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Craft CMS Vs Contentful - Which Is Better?

10 min read
Craft CMS Vs Contentful

Choosing the right CMS is crucial, but with so many options, it can be overwhelming. In this guide, we compare two top CMS platforms - Craft and Contentful. Discover their key differences, strengths and limitations. Gain the insights you need to determine which platform will best meet your content management needs. Weigh up the facts so you can make the right CMS choice for your business.

For small teams managing up to 5 sites, Craft CMS provides more affordable pricing starting at $57/month. However, Contentful excels for larger brands needing enterprise reliability, offering 99.99% guaranteed uptime and unlimited contributors for under $1000/month. Overall, Craft suits small custom sites well, while Contentful is better for global omnichannel publishing at scale.

History and Background

Craft CMS History and Creation

Craft CMS first saw the light of day back in 2013, emerging from the minds of accomplished developers Brandon Kelly and Pixel & Tonic. Having recognised a gap in the market for a flexible, developer-focused content management system to rival the likes of WordPress, Brandon and his team sought to create their own bespoke solution catered towards creative agencies and nimble publishers.

After bootstrapping initial development efforts, Craft received its first round of seed funding in 2014 from Imagine Ventures - a boost allowing the foundational team to expand and accelerate growth. Further Series A investment followed in 2017 from Digital Garage, signalling a major milestone and fuelling Craft's ambitions to cement itself as a top CMS contender on the global stage.

Staying true to its beginnings, Craft continues to position itself as a highly customisable and extensible CMS platform designed for developers. Its slimline architecture and use of common web languages like PHP and Twig endear it to agencies and publishers seeking a lean content hub to integrate within their technology stacks. While adoption remains strongest in its native US homeland, Craft enjoys an increasingly international user base - especially across creative digital agencies who value the CMS for its versatility and developer empowerment.

Contentful History and Creation

Emerging onto the scene in 2013, Contentful arrived as one of the pioneering forces in headless content management. Co-founded in Berlin by Sascha Konietzke and Paolo Negri, the startup sought to disrupt the CMS sector by decoupling content from front-end presentation - an innovative concept for the time.

Unlike conventional CMS platforms, Contentful positioned itself as an API-first system designed to simply manage and deliver content to any device or channel. This represented a seismic shift from traditional monolithic architectures that bundled content and presentation together.

Bolstered by Series A funding in 2014, Contentful doubled down on its API-first ethos and expansion across Europe. Further VC investment followed in quick succession, with the company raising over $78 million by 2019. As adoption grew exponentially across global enterprise brands, Contentful cemented its standing as a trailblazer in the headless CMS space.

Today, Contentful retains its status as an industry-leading content hub purpose-built for the multi-channel digital era. Its developer-friendly RESTful API enables content to be surfaced quickly across websites, apps, wearables and digital touchpoints. While headquartered in San Francisco, Contentful retains its engineering roots in Berlin where its founding began over a decade ago.

Core Platform Features and Capabilities

Key Craft CMS Features

One of Craft's biggest selling points is its flexible approach to content modelling. It allows users to create custom field and section types through an intuitive GUI, with support for common inputs like plain text, rich text, images, videos, dropdowns, checkboxes and more. This enables fully custom content structures tailored to specific needs.

Templating is powered by Twig, providing developers with a robust theming syntax they can use to build front-ends exactly how they want. Templates have full access to content via variables, enabling crafting experiences driven purely by data.

Craft also shines through its plugin ecosystem. The platform is highly extendable, with Craft CMS plugins available to add ecommerce, SEO enhancements, social media integration and countless other features. This level of custom extensibility allows developers to expand Craft's capabilities to meet specialized requirements.

For multi-site and multi-language needs, Craft comes equipped with powerful localization and translation features. Content models can be segmented by site and locale, with automatic fallbacks to manage translations and avoid phantom content issues.

Overall, Craft provides an agile and developer-driven CMS thanks to its flexible modelling, extensive custom fields, powerful Twig templating and broad plugin extensions. This makes it a great fit for niche sites and web apps with unique content needs.

Key Contentful Features

As a pioneering headless CMS, Contentful focuses on decoupled content delivery via APIs and webhooks. Content is exposed through a developer-friendly REST API for consumption across any digital channel or platform. There is no baked-in theming layer or templating language.

Like Craft, Contentful boasts flexible content modelling capabilities with support for a range of field types. However, it provides greater collaboration features like editorial workflows, versioning and advanced user permissions. This caters well to larger teams with complex review and approval processes.

Contentful also offers a robust ecosystem of integrations, enabling connection to other martech platforms for expanded capabilities. This allows bridging together best-of-breed solutions versus an all-in-one suite approach.

For enterprise needs, Contentful scales excellently, powering leading global brands. Reliability and performance are top-notch, with 99.99% guaranteed uptime and response times under 50ms. The headless model also lends itself well to omnichannel content syndication.

Overall, Contentful excels as a headless CMS for global organizations and cross-platform content delivery, with collaboration, scalability and integrations being key strengths.

Comparison of Core Features

Let's take a look at the main features of Craft CMS vs Contentful. When it comes to content modelling, both Craft and Contentful enable flexible custom fields and sections for specialized needs. However, Craft provides a more intuitive GUI for content authors while Contentful offers greater collaboration features for complex team workflows.

For authoring, Craft gives content creators more baked-in tools like WYSIWYG editing. Contentful focuses just on the raw content itself, leaving front-end rendering to the consumer.

Content delivery sees a major difference, with Craft using traditional templating and Contentful providing headless content via API. Craft brings tighter front-end integration while Contentful enables true omnichannel publishing.

In terms of extensibility, Craft has a more extensive plugin ecosystem while Contentful offers a robust integration marketplace. Both platforms enable enhancing functionality through third-party add-ons.

For scalability, Contentful has proven enterprise-readiness, powering leading global brands. Craft may face limitations for massive multi-regional implementations but provides greater flexibility for smaller niche use cases.

Overall, Craft excels for customizable sites with sophisticated templating needs, while Contentful powers omnichannel content delivery at scale. The choice comes down to use case requirements.

Developer Experience

Customization and Integration Approaches

Craft CMS provides developers with several avenues for customization and extensibility. The primary method is via its extensive plugin ecosystem, which contains over 500 publicly available plugins spanning ecommerce, SEO, social media and more. Plugins allow adding new features and deeply integrating Craft with other platforms.

Craft also supports creating custom modules and field types for handling unique content needs. The clean codebase and use of common frameworks like Twig and Yii provide a familiar environment for PHP developers to build on top of Craft's core functionality.
Finally, front-end theming is entirely flexible thanks to the tight integration with Twig templating. Developers have full control over templates and site presentations using Twig syntax they already know.

In contrast, Contentful focuses on customization via webhooks and custom app integrations. Webhooks enable triggering external processes whenever content changes occur. This powers dynamic workflows by piping content to other platforms.

The Contentful SDK allows developers to build custom apps that deeply integrate with the headless Content API. These apps can pull content, manipulate it, and push it anywhere needed. Apps combined with webhooks provide limitless integration potential.

While Craft employs a more traditional plugin model, Contentful offers greater flexibility for non-PHP developers to customize workflows using modern web languages and frameworks. Both platforms enable deep customization, just via different technical approaches.

Learning Resources and Documentation

Craft provides developers with extensive documentation and learning resources. Their in-depth docs cover core concepts, templating, plugins, module and field development, APIs, and more. Code samples and tutorials help engineers quickly grasp key techniques.

An active Discourse community supplements the official docs, enabling developers to ask questions and engage in discussions. The community is also a source for curated plugins, modules, and projects.

Contentful also offers top-notch technical documentation covering its Content Delivery and Management APIs, webhooks, synchronization, authentication, and more. The reference docs make it easy for developers to find what they need.

To accelerate development, Contentful provides official SDKs for popular languages and frameworks like JavaScript, .NET, iOS, Android, React and more. These give developers ready-to-use tools for integrating with Contentful.

Beyond documentation, Contentful offers interactive online training courses that teach developers hands-on skills for building with Contentful. The company also publishes regular technical blog posts exploring best practices.

For support, both Craft and Contentful offer business support plans that provide dedicated technical contacts and SLAs. Craft's community forum creates a more transparent and peer-supported avenue for troubleshooting issues.

Overall, both platforms invest heavily in empowering developers with robust documentation, learning resources, SDKs and active forums/communities. Craft provides a more close-knit community ethos while Contentful emphasizes global-scale training and programs.

Case Studies and Example Sites

UK Sites Using Craft CMS

Craft CMS powers several high-profile sites across Britain spanning industries like media, retail, non-profits and more.

One showcase example is the UK media outlet ShortList. As a pop culture and entertainment publication, ShortList used Craft to create a visually dynamic website with a focus on immersive storytelling. Craft provided the flexibility to customize content models and theming for ShortList's unique editorial needs.

Another British publication using Craft is LeftLion Magazine - a culture magazine covering Nottingham creatives and events. LeftLion employed Craft's multi-site capabilities to manage content across a primary magazine site plus several city-specific sites. Craft enabled easy consolidation under one CMS.

On the non-profit front, Dogs Trust - the UK's largest dog welfare charity - relies on Craft to manage its information-rich website. Craft provides flexibility for diverse content types like bios, news, behavioural advice and volunteer stories. Its user-friendly interface also empowers non-technical staff.

In ecommerce, innovative retailers like Panoply produce hyper-targeted merchandise using Craft's custom fields and Shopify integration. Custom product models and Programmable Order Forms enable high-volume product personalization.

From media publishers to nonprofit organizations, Craft CMS delivers the customization and developer control needed for niche sites with unique structures and experiences. Its flexibility makes it a favourite for UK organizations with specialized needs.

UK Sites Using Contentful

As a leading headless CMS, Contentful powers some of Britain's most recognizable brands across sectors like media, retail, government and more.

For example, The Guardian - a top national newspaper - adopted Contentful as part of its pursuit of reader-first, cross-platform publishing. Contentful's APIs feed content to apps, homepages, third-party platforms and more. The result is a unified omnichannel experience.

The innovation charity Nesta also relies on Contentful to manage its research reports, news and other content. Integration with Netlify provides a serverless site, while Contentful's collaboration features support distributed teams.

In fashion retail, Contentful allows brands like Fred Perry to deliver localized shopping experiences across regions. Customizable content models and APIs enable tailoring products, promotions and more per locale.

Government entities like NHS Digital leverage Contentful's enterprise capabilities to consolidate and distribute content at a massive scale. Its security model and 99.99% uptime provide the reliability needed for critical systems.

From leading news publishers to large enterprises, Contentful excels at powering famous British brands thanks to its headless flexibility, bulletproof reliability and omnichannel content delivery capabilities.

Community Support and Knowledge

Developer Communities

Craft CMS boasts an engaged, knowledgeable community of developers and users. Their active Discourse forum sees high daily engagement with over 14,000 registered members. Developers help each other troubleshoot issues, share plugins and themes, and discuss best practices.

Craft also has an extensive Stack Exchange community with over 5,500 questions asked. The visibility on Stack Exchange helps newcomers easily find answers to common issues when learning Craft.

In addition to forums, Craft's developer community interacts through events like Meetups and the annual Craft Conference. These in-person gatherings allow networking and knowledge sharing.

Overall, Craft's grassroots community provides an invaluable support system and camaraderie for developers through collaborative troubleshooting, sharing resources, and forging connections.

The Contentful community is also highly active albeit smaller compared to Craft's base. Contentful focus engagement on their own learning resources and forum sites rather than third-party platforms.

Contentful's support forum sees solid activity with over 1,200 registered members. Developers can browse topics, ask questions, and find answers from staff and other users. However, engagement isn't yet as widespread as Craft's Discourse community.

For events, Contentful arranges meetups, workshops and its yearly Unite conference. The emphasis is on structured learning versus informal grassroots gatherings like Craft's Meetups.

Overall, while passionate, Contentful's community is still growing. Craft enjoys broader organic community engagement, especially amongst smaller independent developer shops.

Available Experts and Agencies

Given its roots as a developer-centric CMS, Craft enjoys strong agency adoption, leading to ample expertise amongst digital consultancies in Britain. Many UK agencies list Craft CMS specialization front and centre on their sites.

Craft also provides an Agency Finder directory to connect users with expert web shops across the country. Listings highlight client examples, services offered, and Craft capabilities.

For Contentful, adoption remains stronger among software consultancies that focus on headless architecture and API integrations. Contentful offers its own partner directory with a handful of UK/European partners featured.

However, Craft's early growth in the UK provides a greater choice of local agencies with direct Craft CMS expertise compared to Contentful's more global SI partner network. There is a greater abundance of immediately accessible Craft specialists.

Knowledge Bases and Documentation

As discussed earlier, both Craft and Contentful produce stellar technical documentation hubs covering CMS implementations, templating, APIs, troubleshooting, and examples. These enable self-learning of the platforms.

Craft's user guide stands out for its comprehensiveness and beginner-friendliness. Their Discourse forum also provides an enormous knowledge base of existing threads on common questions.

Contentful's documentation emphasizes API usage and integration best practices. Their learning centre also provides structured training courses for those seeking guided learning.

For non-developers, Craft provides an extensive library of help articles covering site administration, user management, and everyday CMS usage. Contentful documentation caters more towards technical roles.

When it comes to community knowledge and self-serve help resources, Craft edges out Contentful with immense archives of user-generated content and discussions. This gives Craft CMS a broader and more accessible knowledge base.

Pricing and Licensing

Craft CMS Pricing Plans

Craft CMS offers flexible pricing options to suit different needs and budgets. For small teams, Craft Solo provides a low-cost plan at £39 per site. It allows 1 admin user and basic Craft features.

The Pro plan at £299 per site lifts limits for unlimited admins, entry types, and SaaS plugins. For unlimited sites, Craft Unlimited offers a flat £799 fee.

For enterprise needs, Craft offers custom quotes. Large media groups or government entities pay north of £5,000 annually typically.

Self-hosting provides a perpetual licence fee of around £2000 for standard or £4000 for enterprise. This removes ongoing costs but in-house hosting is required.

Overall, Craft CMS pricing delivers flexibility, but costs rise quickly for multiple sites and users. Yet it remains affordable for small teams on a budget.

Contentful Pricing Plans

Contentful offers several plans tailored to the use case. The Starter tier at $49/month provides core features for trial, while the Basic plan at $219/month lifts limits.

The Business tier at $799/month brings added collaboration features like workflows. For large deployments, Enterprise pricing is fully customized.

For enterprises managing thousands of assets and handling heavy traffic, Contentful can cost well into six figures annually. Unlimited collaborators help teams scale without paying per user.

As a SaaS platform, Contentful does not offer self-hosting. However, the ability to cache content helps limit compute costs.

Overall pricing is competitive, especially for large teams that would pay heavily for per-seat licenses. Contentful rewards collaboration while Craft is better for budget sites.

Pricing Model Comparisons

For small sites with just a few content editors, Craft provides good value and essential CMS features at a reasonable cost. Contentful's higher onboarding pricing makes less sense for microsites.

However, as team sizes, integrations, and content volumes grow, Contentful becomes more cost-effective by allowing unlimited users and assets. Craft's per-site and per-user fees add rapidly at scale.

Self-hosting Craft can help larger teams avoid recurring fees, at the cost of managing their own infrastructure. But few beyond media giants and governments will require Craft's perpetual enterprise licence.

Ultimately, Craft excels for cost-conscious teams running a few niche sites on a tight budget. But Contentful delivers better value for mid-size to large teams needing workflow automation, extensive collaboration and enterprise scalability.

The crossover point is around 5 active users and 10+ sites where Contentful's unlimited seats become more affordable long-term than Craft's incremental site and user charges.

Security, Reliability, and Uptime

Security Measures and Compliance

As a self-hosted platform, Craft CMS leaves security largely to the user's discretion. Craft sites should run behind firewalls and leverage mechanisms like SSL and VPNs for encryption.

For hosted Craft, providers like CraftQuest offer robust security including daily backups, firewalls, server redundancy and optional SSL.

While Craft itself doesn't carry certifications, reputable hosts use IT controls aligned to standards like SOC2 and ISO27001. Overall, Craft can be secured but the burden is on the user.

In contrast, Contentful being SaaS-based provides enterprise-grade security as default. Contentful maintains SOC 2 Type 2, ISO 27001, and PCI compliance, with automatic encryption for all customer data.

User authentication uses secure mechanisms like OAuth 2.0 and token-based access. Contentful also enables two-factor authentication for admin accounts.

For Contentful's hosting infrastructure, data centres maintain surveillance, multi-level access controls, and redundancy. Overall security measures are vastly superior to most self-hosted setups.

Infrastructure and Uptime

Being a downloadable CMS, Craft's uptime and availability depends wholly on the environment it is hosted in. There are no baked-in redundancy or failover mechanisms.

Most users rely on cloud hosts or managed services for adequate uptime. Providers such as SiteGround offer 99.9% uptime SLAs along with features like auto-scaling. This lifts reliability considerably.

For in-house hosting, extra work is required to architect redundancy and disaster recovery capabilities. Additional load balancing and backup servers are necessary to match cloud provider reliability.

In contrast, Contentful's SaaS model includes built-in redundancy and scaling. The service offers an industry-leading 99.99% uptime SLA reinforced by distributed multi-region infrastructure.

Contentful's microservices architecture allows isolated failures without site-wide downtime. Cacheing and content delivery networks also improve performance and availability.

Overall, Contentful provides uptime and response times unmatched by most self-hosted or managed Craft setups. Its cloud-native architecture offers inherent high availability.

So while Craft can match Contentful reliability by using reputable managed hosting, the additional investment and architecture considerations must be factored in. Contentful wins on out-of-the-box redundancy.

Which CMS is Better for Organizations?

When Craft CMS Excels

Craft CMS shines when an organization needs an extensible, customizable CMS for complex sites. It's flexible content modelling and developer-centric platform caters perfectly to web studios building one-off sites.

Craft also suits organizations with niche content structures or experiences that necessitate tweaking the CMS directly. The ability to create custom fields and entry types enables modelling unique content types intuitively.

Teams with advanced front-end needs benefit from Craft's tight integration with Twig templating. Craft hands-full presentation control to developers through templating while still providing a friendly CMS interface.

Smaller teams get excellent value from Craft's lower entry pricing, compared to Contentful's steeper onboarding costs. The pricing model also suits organizations running just a handful of sites.

For organizations seeking open-source CMS capabilities but wanting a more refined product, Craft offers an excellent hybrid option. It provides flexibility without the DIY complexity.

Overall, Craft excels where the use case demands flexibility, customization, and templating capabilities over out-of-the-box features and SaaS convenience. Its sweet spot is bespoke sites.

When Contentful Excels

Contentful pulls ahead for global organizations needing reliable omnichannel content delivery at high volumes. Its headless API-first architecture allows effortless content syndication across devices.

Marketing teams benefit from Contentful's workflow automation, collaboration features, and intuitive web UI. This simplifies cross-team coordination compared to more technical solutions.

Organizations already bought into microservices and API-driven architectures will appreciate Contentful's fit within modern stacks. Its decoupled nature dovetails with progressive approaches.

For large distributed teams, Contentful's unlimited user model provides cost efficiency over Craft's per-seat pricing. It better accommodates growing brands with many content contributors.

Regulated industries benefit from Contentful's security compliance and enterprise-grade performance. Reliability and support are unmatched by typical open source solutions.

Overall, Contentful excels where the priorities are cloud infrastructure, omnichannel publishing, and collaboration around centralized content. It suits complex global organizations.

Key Differences Summary

Fundamentally, Craft offers greater UI-driven customization while Contentful focuses on content APIs. Craft gives developers ultimate control while Contentful empowers non-technical users.

Their pricing models also differ, with Craft scaling cost-effectively for small sites but becoming expensive for large user bases. Contentful provides more predictable costs at scale.

For architectural styles, Craft aligns with monolithic systems while Contentful embraces modern decoupled patterns. But Craft offers richer baked-in functionality out-of-the-box.

Content and collaboration-wise, Craft has superior authoring features while Contentful excels at multi-team workflows. Both platforms can handle common needs like SEO and localization.

For reliability, Contentful provides air-tight uptime and redundancy that Craft can't match without engineering. But Craft gives ultimate infrastructure control.

There's no universal "better" option. Choices come down to architecting for flexibility versus scalability and investing in customization versus collaboration. The use case perspective shapes which platform makes the most sense.

Shape April 2022 HR 202
Andy Golpys
- Author

Andy has scaled multiple businesses and is a big believer in Craft CMS as a tool that benefits both Designer, Developer and Client. 

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