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What is Contentful CMS: Features, Benefits, and Best Practices

Check out this comprehensive guide to learn what contentful is, how it works, and whether it's a suitable CMS for you or not.

Rajnish Kumar Sharma
Rajnish Kumar Sharma
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Content is at the heart of all digital experiences and Contentful is designed to help you manage that content and scale it across multiple channels and devices, streamlining how digital marketing, content editors, business owners, and developers all work together to support customer experiences.

In this guide, we’ll lay out detailed information about Contentful to help you decide if it’s the right CMS for you, including:

  • Contentful features and why they’re important
  • When to use Contentful, and when not
  • How to get started with Contentful

What Is Contentful?

What is Contentful CMS? Contentful is a modern content management system (CMS), helping leading brands assemble and deliver content in record time to anywhere you want.

A traditional CMS creates content for the web, but it may not be optimized for other use cases like smartphones or smart watches or new social media sales opportunities, leading many companies to have multiple CMS implementations – which is expensive and hard to keep organized. For modern businesses that want to deliver optimized experiences across channels but have one single shared repository, the solution is a headless CMS like Contentful.

This video is very helpful to give you an overview of Contentful:

How Does Contentful Work?

The Contentful software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform was founded in Germany by Sascha Konietzke and Paolo Negri in 2013 and is now based out of California. Contentful markets itself as a “composable content platform for digital-first businesses,” helping manage content to deliver digital-first omnichannel experiences. That’s a complicated way of saying the following:

  • Contentful is your single, structured source of truth for content (news, blogs, product info) across any digital channel.
  • You use Contentful to assemble content into ‘experiences’ that can be reused in future. For example, a ‘featured products’ page template allows marketers, designers and content editors to deploy new content without the ongoing help of development or new code.
  • You can create ‘guardrails’ that ensure every experience stays within design boundaries to ensure brand integrity.
  • Contentful facilitates the combination of content from all sorts of external systems, including digital asset management, product inventory, etc.
  • Content can be published to any digital channel, with the front-end of each channel created and managed separately, using the tech stack, language and framework of choice. These are all set up and optimized by developers, so you can know with confidence that when you ‘publish’ to a channel, it will be optimized.

user management api

Contentful is unlocking a new way of managing content for the digital age. But is it right for you?

Who Should Use Contentful?

Contentful boasts an impressive client roster, supporting nearly 30% of Fortune 500 companies including KraftHeinz, KFC, DocuSign, Ruggable, Vodafone and BMW. Contentful currently powers over 87,148 customers, ideally suited for developers, marketers and content creators to support a variety of products to manage and deliver content across multiple channels or platforms. It can be used for:

  • Websites (particularly Global ones)
  • Mobile apps
  • Knowledge bases or portals
  • Interactive guides
  • Composable commerce, leveraging independent components to optimize eCommerce experiences

Let’s examine some of the features that make these use cases possible.

What Are the Main Features of Contentful CMS?

The best headless CMS platforms are all designed to make it easier to deliver optimized digital experiences across many channels simultaneously. It is for this reason that Contentful is also considered a “digital experience platform” (DXP), listed as one of the top Contenders in this category. Let’s look at some of the main features of the cloud-based Contentful, organized for simplicity into important areas of consideration for each user group.

Development and integration

  • API-First Approach: An API-first strategy builds an API before a user interface, considering the API more a “product” than something supporting communication. This helps narrow the focus to content, where it should go, and what functionality is needed to support that. This is the entire premise behind Contentful’s approach, ensuring developers and designers always work on a single source of truth.
  • Headless Architecture: Headless separates the front end (user interface) from the back end (data storage), which accesses content through API. This is a very flexible approach, allowing content to be published across multiple channels without the need for costly data duplication or relying on responsive web designs, which are not ideal for performance or experience.
  • headless architecture

  • Content Modeling: The start of any Contentful journey is defining and structuring content to make it reusable in the future. This takes more careful planning and work, but provides the basis of making the tool simple for other end-users (marketing, content, business). This increased focus on creating a reusable content structure is why, in the above graphic, Contentful considers itself beyond just headless.
  • Developer Tools and SDKs: Developers have freedom to choose the frontend(s) of their choice to create customized, optimized user experiences for customers, connecting to Contentful via API. Contentful has software development kits (SDKs) for Java, JavaScript, Python, PHP, .NET, Objective-C and Ruby, supporting developer freedom. Contentful also provides starter templates to deploy across the sack.
  • GraphQL Support: Every Contentfulful space comes with a GraphQL schema based upon the content types set in the content model to support accessing and manipulating content efficiently. The GraphQL Content API supports both Content Delivery API (CDA) and Content Preview API (CPA).
  • Extensions and Integrations: Contentful can be customized as desired using publicly available apps in its Marketplace or custom apps to support third-party services, using the helpful Contentful App Framework.
  • Environment and Deployment Management: Contentful leverages webhooks that trigger a build and deployment, if configured for continuous deployment to Github, Heroku, Dokku or Surge.sh, via the Now service from Zeit.

Content management

Contentful is making huge strides in becoming easier for content editors to quickly create experiences, standing out among CMS competitors, including:

  • Rich Text Editor: Similar to the traditional what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editors, Contentful’s Rich Text editor supports common text formatting options and live preview to make editing easier for content editors, but returns the content in pure JSON rather than HTML.
  • Content Studio: A paid add-on product, Content Studio leverages a drag-and-drop canvas, patterns and design tokens to speed up content development without developer resources, relying on controls to lock in brand consistency and integrity across channels and markets.
  • Contentful AI: Contentful now offers AI enhancements to support the building of content models, content generation, translation, image generation, and automation of common workflows.
  • Asset Management: Contentful is a centralized source of truth for all types of content, including images and multimedia. Its tools dynamically resize or optimize images across channel types to optimize performance, version control, and integration with third-party imaging and digital asset management (DAM) services. Some asset types are limited by plan.
  • Localization and Internationalization: For Premium plans, Contentful offers multi-region delivery from a single source of truth, helping ensure campaign elements remain consistent across global experiences. Contentful supports Locales, each with configurable settings, with AI and third-party integrations helping accelerate content translation to nearly 100 languages.
  • Workflow and Collaboration Tools: Leverage Contentful AI to automate routine tasks, streamline content development, and ensure integrity. You can also install and use the Tasks app from the Marketplace to assign work to colleagues or teams and support the content pipeline from creation (Compose) to deployment (Launch).
  • Content Delivery and Content Preview APIs: The Content Delivery API (CDA) and the Content Preview API (CPA) are set up based on two content delivery networks (CDN): Fastly for JSON and CloudFront for media assets and binary files.
  • Customizable UI: Thanks to Contentful’s UI extensions feature, you can customize Contentful’s user interface (UI) to suit your specific use cases.

Collaboration and workflow

Contentful is designed to support team-based efficiency. It allows multiple users to work on the same content simultaneously, with versioning support and rollbacks.

  • Roles and Permissions: Enhanced identity and access management provisions allow for robust security. Basic plans start at 4 standard roles, with Premium supporting custom roles. Users can opt into two-factor authentication.
  • Webhooks and Automation: Developers can set up notifications when content changes occur without impacting web performance. The AWS webhook is available at the Premium plan only.

Performance and scalability

Due to its headless design and the ability to create and optimize front-ends, Contentful is designed for performance.

  • Scalability and Reliability: Contentful offers transparency over performance and uptime here, using Fastly and CloudFront.

Security and Compliance

Security and compliance is a shared activity between the organization and its service partners. Contentful offers the following:

  • Security Features: Contentful data centers are ISO 27001 compliant, supporting encryption for data at rest and in transit, including physical and digital protections such as firewall and threat detection. Contentful backs up data and includes brute force protection on all spaces. Additional security features (SSO, custom domains, static webhook IPS, reporting, PCI DSS compliance) only become available at higher pierce tiers.

SEO and analytics

  • SEO Management Tools: Contentful offers basic metadata management (alt text, page keywords) when the data model is created to support these SEO fields, later supporting the content editor teams’ flow. Additional SEO support would be via integrations. Refer to the Contentful SEO guide.
  • Analytics and Reporting: Contentful does not have base reporting but leverages a Google Analytics integration to monitor content performance metrics.

Extensive documentation and community support

Contentful has a growing base of community support on Discord and extensive resources for technical and non-technical users. The platform offers different support tiers based on the pricing plan, beginning with technical support at the Basic Plan level and including a dedicated support contact and professional services with SLAs for Premium plans.

Contentful is helping accelerate content teams’ delivery of content to any channel with ease. Let’s take a look at the benefits of Contentful.

What Are the Benefits of Contentful CMS?

Why are developers, brand managers, and business owners choosing Contentful?

  • Agile eCommerce: Contentful supports composable commerce, integrating eCommerce platforms directly into your content editor to control product information, create a shoppable lookbook, promote products, or create other interactive and personalized shopping experiences.
  • App framework: Customize your tech stack with existing integrations or custom ones made via Contentful’s App Framework, helping connect to favorite tools and optimize how editors work.
  • Content hub: Contentful’s content hub is a single source of truth for your content infrastructure. It helps eliminate costly workarounds and duplicate content, unifies disparate sources for editors, and reduces the complexity of managing multiple code bases for developers.
  • Supports Omnichannel retailing: Having a single source of truth for content ensures that it can be delivered consistently across marketing channels. Messaging, goals, brand design, and even product and inventory details are always consistent, no matter where a customer wants to engage.
  • Localization: Leverage ‘Locales’, modular content, AI and third-party tools to accelerate global content creation.

Contentful pricing

Contentful has two products, the Contentful Platform and an add-on product, Contentful Studio, to streamline creating on-brand experiences. Contentful Studio is only available at custom pricing.

contentful pricing

Working with Contentful will always involve integrations, so let’s dig deeper into that.

Contentful Integration and Best Practices

The integration will involve using existing third-party or custom apps leveraging Contentful’s APIs, webhooks, or connectors.

Contentful APIs

Contentful supports the following APIs:

  • Content Delivery API (CDA) to retrieve content to display
  • Content Management API to create or update content
  • Content Preview API (CPA) to retrieve unpublished content
  • Images API to retrieve and/or transform images
  • GraphQL Content API to retrieve published and unpublished content using GraphQL
  • User Management API to manage users
  • SCIM API to manage memberships and teams

Integration methods

The Contentful Marketplace is the first place to start when planning an integration, but if one is not available, you can build a custom web app using the Contentful App Framework and Contentful APIs.

Data mapping and synchronization

A data map is a plan that ensures that data from external third services is mapped to the Content content hub, ensuring fields line up to simplify content editing and choosing what data will live in Contentful and what will remain in third-party services (e.g. an eCommerce platform).

Authentication and security

Follow best practices with two-factor authentication, available on all plans, and ideally higher levels of authentication factors (e.g. security key) for admin users.

Testing & quality assurance

As with any development, test a custom integration to check for how it handles errors.

Monitoring and maintenance

As with any software, implement monitoring and error tracking to spot issues and regularly update code to ensure it works as Contentful continues to receive updates.

Documentation and support

Any new integration should include complete documentation to ensure that other or future team members can maintain it. Community support (via Discord) is helpful for troubleshooting.

Scale and optimize

As Contentful evolves and business needs evolve, consider how your integration can be improved to be more efficient, optimize workflows, or improve performance.

To truly understand the benefits of Contentful, you must also look to some of its top competitors:

Contentful vs. WordPress vs. Drupal: Comparison Table

Let’s look at a head-to-head comparison between Contentful and two of the primary CMS competitors in the space, WordPress and Drupal:

Contentful vs. WordPress vs. Drupal

If you’ve decided that Contentful is suitable for you, how do you get started?

How to Use Contentful?

While we suggest that any user take a moment to read the documentation and go through some of Contentful’s helpful tutorials, you can create a test project or space in Contentful to get started—or perhaps you’re ready to jump right into your project. Here’s how to get started.

Step #1: Create a Space

A Contentful “space” is a workspace for content and media related to a project, such as a specific marketing campaign. It will only contain information for this goal. To create a new space, click “Add a space.”

Contentful space

Step #2: Create a content model

Spaces must be set up with a content model. You can create your content model in the Visual Modeler or configure the content types using the Content Model tab.

Contentful content

Step #3: Add information types

Once you define the content type, you then want to add the kinds of information that will be associated with that type, leveraging several kinds of fields already supported in Contentful. When selecting rich text, be sure to make all necessary configurations for each frontend implementation.

add information

Step #4: Add content

We now have a template to support our content! If we go to “add” a piece of content, it will provide fields (following our set-up above) for us to fill out with our desired content before saving as a draft and/or publishing. If the content type includes a Rich Text field, you can work in a familiar setting to format the text to your preferences.

add content

Interested in Learning More About Contentful?

No matter your project or your role, whether you’re a content editor wanting to create omnichannel experiences or you’re a business owner wanting to improve the performance of your website or app, Contentful has many features that make it a great choice.

Net Solutions is a global, award-winning Agile software development company specializing in outsourced projects and consulting, helping our partners co-create digital products featuring the latest technologies, such as Contentful. We are proud to partner with Contentful, offering vast experience working with headless CMS platforms, eCommerce platforms, and other cloud-native technologies to help you realize your vision.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Contentful support multi-language content?

Contentful is known for supporting global initiatives while adhering to strict brand guidelines across each region. To do so, Contentful uses ‘locales’ with a language associated with each locale, translated using AI to help translate content in up to 100 languages (and counting), third-party integrations, or your in-house editors or translators.

Is Contentful free?

Contentful does have a free plan, but the features are limited. The Contentful free plan supports up to 5 users, 4 roles and 2 locales. There are limitations related to API calls, asset bandwidth (CDN) usage, asset uploads, content types, environments, security features, and types of support. The free plan is limited to 1 intro space. Please see the pricing plan above for specific details.

What is Contentful used for?

Contentful is used to manage and create editorial content for digital experiences, with content distribution across various platforms and channels. It offers scalable solutions to suit a variety of websites, mobile apps, knowledge bases or portals, interactive guides, or to support eCommerce (and composable commerce).

Rajnish Kumar Sharma
Article written by

Rajnish Kumar Sharma

Rajnish Kumar Sharma, a Senior Technical Project Manager, boasts an impressive 18+ years of experience in the tech industry. His professional journey is marked by a deep expertise in Azure and AWS cloud services, Microsoft technologies for web and mobile applications, proficiency in Python+Django, and a strong grasp of application architecture and management.

Rajnish is a food enthusiast with a taste for North and South Indian vegetarian cuisines. His music preferences are as dynamic as his mood.

A family man at heart, Rajnish cherishes traveling with his loved ones, and for personal rejuvenation, he indulges in long, early morning walks and challenges his mind with crosswords and puzzle games.

A cricket aficionado, he also finds joy in playing the sport, dedicating time to family, and engaging in introspection and self-improvement plans.

Rajnish lives by the mantra of enjoying every moment and embracing lifelong learning.

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