Opinions & Insights

CMS popularity on Netlify

Opinions & Insights

CMS popularity on Netlify

About a month ago we dug into our data and wrote a post about web framework popularity on Netlify.

We promised we'd follow up with a similar dive into Content Management Systems (CMS) options, and here it is. We looked at build data from over 45,000 sites building using CMS we could identify.

Netlify's composable architecture lends itself to headless CMS options, which provide a back-end UI for editing and formatting content, with an API that powers your front-end, often generating content at build time. All the CMS we're going to discuss in this post are headless CMS: even WordPress, which shows up in a couple of places, has a headless mode and that's how our users are using it here.

CMS usage grows with scale

At Netlify we have three big groups of customers: our free users, who are often hobbyist developers building sites for fun or just a small portfolio site; our self-serve users, who pay for Netlify and are often running a small web storefront or local business; and finally our Enterprise users, who run mission-critical websites, often at enormous scale, doing things like publishing content, selling goods and services, or running SaaS apps.

These three groups often have very different use-cases and that shows up in their respective usage of CMS. Just 1.4% of organizations at the free level use a CMS that we can detect, but that rises sharply as organizations scale. 18% of self-serve customers are using some kind of CMS and a majority, 56% Enterprise customers are using a CMS. Our conclusion is that a CMS is something you reach for as your sites scale and as your organization itself grows.

Developers love Sanity

Typically, Netlify free tier users are developers with one-off projects who are making changes to content by editing code directly. Since they're often the only user, a CMS is often superfluous, which may explain the small share of CMS in general at this tier.

There was also a marked difference between the tiers in terms of which CMS they prefer. Sanity, a relatively newer option than some of the other CMS we're looking at, is the clear favorite among solo developers, with 41% of those who are using a CMS choosing it. Second at this tier is Contentful, which as we're about to see is a popular choice everywhere.

Also making a strong showing here is Stackbit, which is a bit of an outlier: it's not a full CMS by itself, but instead a rich editor that works in concert with other CMS (such as the top two, Sanity and Contentful, both of which can integrate with Stackbit).

Further down you can see industry veteran WordPress, which became popular as a monolithic solution but as our survey data shows has a headless mode that is better-loved by users than its original mode.

Growing companies look to Contentful

As we move from the free-tier, where CMS usage is relatively rare, to the self-serve tier, CMS usage becomes more popular -- 1 in 5 organizations in this group are using a CMS. At this tier we more often see small teams of developers, often with one or two marketing folks who use a CMS to update the site without requiring developer time.

The CMS they prefer also changes: while Sanity is still very popular at 28% of organizations using a CMS that we can detect, Contentful takes the top spot with 36%.

Also making a much stronger showing at this tier is Prismic. Only 4% of free organizations picked it but that grows to 11% at this tier, Prismic's strongest showing. Storyblok also bumps up a few notches in popularity at this tier.

Contentful for Enterprises

As we reach the Enterprise tier the balance continues to shift. At this level, we're primarily seeing mixed developer and marketer web teams, and they're turning to Netlify to help speed and smooth their content workflows.

Here, Contentful is the clear favorite, with 56% of organizations whose CMS we can detect picking contentful. Because CMS usage is so much more popular at the Enterprise level, fully 31% of all Enterprise organizations on Netlify are using Contentful for their headless CMS.

One point to note is that while Contentful dominates our self-serve and especially Enterprise tiers, our generous free tier means that overall, Sanity has the most users on Netlify.

CMS choices change with frameworks

Knowing CMS popularity overall is valuable but other technical choices can affect your choices, so we decided to look into whether CMS popularity was affected by what web framework you use. Looking at Gatsby and Next, the two most popular frameworks on Netlify, we made some interesting discoveries.

We found that although overall, Sanity is most popular at the free tier, this wasn't true for Gatsby users. We can't be sure why that is, but we know the Gatsby shines with larger, content-heavy sites and Contentful might have an edge over Sanity there. At the self-serve level, the balance between Contentful and Sanity is more like it is overall. (We didn't include Enterprise+Gatsby or Enterprise+Next in this analysis as the samples were statistically too noisy.)

CMS choices change with site size

To double check our idea that Contentful might have an edge for larger, content-heavy sites, we did one further slice of the data: looking at the split of CMS by the size of sites. This graph is somewhat complex but the key point to note is that as site sizes get larger, the balance between Contentful and Sanity steadily shifts, giving Contentful a greater share the bigger the site.

Deploy frequency increases with scale

Our final piece of evidence that Contentful’s popularity is associated with content-heavy sites came when we looked at how deploy frequency changed from tier to tier.

The first row is Contentful, the second is Sanity, and the tier increases from left to right.

You can see that free tier customers deploy relatively infrequently, but self-serve customers deploy more than free-tier customers, and enterprises deploy far more often than self-serve customers.

Here’s another way of putting that:

  • The median Netlify free tier user with Contentful deploys 1-5 times / month
  • The median Netlify self-serve user with Contentful deploys 5-10 times / month
  • The median Netlify enterprise user with Contentful deploys 10-30 times per month.

Deploys per month by Netlify customers per tier and CMS

Netlify is your partner as you scale up

The overall picture of CMS usage on Netlify is a strong and diverse ecosystem with some particular favorites clearly visible. The data suggests that if you're looking to build a large, content-heavy website, Gatsby and Contentful might be a strong choice regardless of your current size. All of the data shows that as companies grow, they turn to Netlify and a headless CMS to help smooth team workflows and ship it faster.

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