Feature Bloat is Killing Headless CMS

Alan Gleeson
5 min readMar 28, 2024

Headless CMS Feature Bloat — An Introduction

Feature bloat refers to a product that has an excessive amount of features, which makes it difficult to undertake core functions and negatively impacts overall usability. Like many SaaS applications that have gone before, the category of Headless CMS is beginning to show signs of feature bloat. It is perfectly understandable when one considers the context:

  • An emergent category that offers an innovative solution
  • An incumbent (WordPress) beginning to show its age
  • A significant number of market entrants competing on features
  • A flood of VC cash into the sector
  • A horizontal market catering to a range of use cases
  • A desire by vendors to ‘move upstream’ to capture greater wallet share
  • Release cycles measured in days/weeks rather than months/ years

When viewed through these characteristics is it any wonder that the sector is finding itself in difficulty?

Causes of Headless CMS Feature Bloat

When you have significant investment into a company, expectations of hockey stick growth and aggressive hiring across all functions you create the perfect storm when it comes to additional feature requests.

We’ve all been there — where product leaders scour competitor solutions to identify killer features, and sales personnel link major sales opportunities to new features, the direction of travel is obvious.

Features are layered on top of features, with a fixed real estate to occupy.

All of which leads to cognitive overload, a frustrating user experience, and steep learning curves. After all, a greater range of features leads to increasing pricing power.

But what about the user?

Of course, we’ve been here before.

Remember Clippit, anyone?

Its tenure was short-lived, and it failed massively in delivering on its intended purpose — encouraging users to broaden their use of Microsoft Office beyond a limited set of tasks.

However, the same story is playing out in the headless CMS category — most of the leading solutions are now so ‘feature-rich’ they are becoming unusable. Instead of fewer features, we get more ‘educational content’.

How to Prevent Feature Bloat?

It is not easy to prevent feature bloat as a natural consequence of seeking continuous improvements. This is exacerbated when occupying competitive sectors, and with an expectation that a product function is ‘always shipping’. B2B SaaS companies take a while to get going, and hence when you factor in 5–10 years of product releases and enhancements, compounding month after month, feature bloat is hard to avoid.

There are however some actions a company can take to mitigate the risk:

  1. Firstly, recognise it as a phenomenon and apply strict processes to new feature releases.
  2. Ensure in-app software is being used to measure feature adoption (and have the confidence to kill features with low takeup). A word of caution here — there will never likely be 0 users, so invariably some users may be disappointed and may push back.
  3. Offer a stripped-back version, at a lower price point even if it may cannibalize the core offering (view it as a defensive mechanism, after all, if you don’t occupy the bottom end someone else might).

Consequences of Feature Bloat

So why is feature bloat an issue?

Primarily because it makes products more difficult to use.

Every link and button vies for your attention and the more links, the heavier the cognitive load as you try and navigate around the application.

Which ones are important, and which ones can be ignored?

Over time, newer features are often placed in enterprise price tiers, so the best features come at a cost.

Finally, new features compound and as release cycles accelerate onboarding new hires becomes more difficult as the learning curve is steeper. Many developers eschew applications with steep learning curves as the know-how is not transferable and thus they want to avoid having to learn lots of different vendor software.

Feature Bloat in Headless

In my experience, the number one complaint of organizations looking to replace their CMS is, simply, “our editors hate it.

Deane Barker, Real World Content Modeling

When it comes to the market leaders in headless the ship has already sailed. Take one look at the pricing page of some of the leaders and scroll down through the list of features in the various tiers. You’ll likely reach treble figures before long.

Check out reviews on the likes of G2 and Capterra, as well as reddit forums and you’ll quickly come across negative reviews like the below:

“I’ve only used [Name redacted] but it is pretty intimidating”

“ I tried it and I wanted to cry” [leading Headless SaaS CMS]

“Stay far away from [Name redacted]. They’re awful. Their pricing strategy is a steal, their platform is bad to work with, and they are missing a lot of common features.”

“[Name redacted] is missing some very basic functionality, wouldn’t use it for anything even slightly complex.”

When it comes to website builds the consequences are more profound.

In many instances marrying a headless CMS with a technically more challenging architecture (best-of-breed rather than all-in-one) means that invariably senior developers need to work on headless builds leading to an increase in overall site build costs.

In short, the last thing a more technical CMS setup needs is additional complexity, caused by feature bloat.

How Contento Manages New Features?

For newer market entrants like Contento, there is little point in getting into a feature war — after all, that cannot be won, when facing VC-backed competitors with deep pockets and significant war chests.

Instead, there are significant opportunities to offer a more stripped-back feature set when non-core features are excluded.

Contento has also taken an assumed position — that the primary use of Contento is for a website. This is a simple but powerful assumption (that in some ways goes against the very essence of the Headless methodology.) By making this assumption, lots of doors (features) can be closed and a tight design narrative can focus on one dominant use case (which is not the situation with the majority of ‘open box’ Headless vendors on the market).

Contento has also focused heavily on the post-site handover experience. Again most vendors pay little attention to the user interface for the marketing function entrusted with ongoing site maintenance and management.

With a stripped-back interface, the odds of cognitive overload are removed, and Contento also offers several toggles that switch on and off features based on the role of the user.

All of this means that Contento represents an ideal entry-level solution for those looking to take their first steps with Headless.

About the Author

Alan Gleeson is the CEO and Co-Founder of Contento, a B2B SaaS content platform (Headless CMS) that helps B2B and SaaS companies scale via a best-of-breed website.

This article originally appeared on the Contento site.



Alan Gleeson

CEO and Co-Founder of Contento — a modern Headless CMS. B2B and Tech Marketing Consultant. Based in London. Passion for #SaaS . https://www.contento.io