We had such big plans for you.
If nothing else, you were destined not to be 2020.
And yet, here we are: history (almost) repeating itself in the form of the Covid Omicron variant – which, at the publishing of this piece, is dwarfing the number of daily positive cases that its predecessors achieved. Thankfully, symptoms appear to be mild this time around, and hospitalizations are a fraction of what they were last December.
But come on, Covid. For real.
On the CMS and DXP front, 2021 seemed to echo 2020 as well – and saying it was "busy" is an understatement. The feverish race to acquire and consolidate was nearly on pace with the previous year, with multiple platforms making a tasty snack of key technologies to complete their vision. Several market leaders announced bold investment plans – which, in some cases, turned into more acquisitions.
Every month, we bring you a wrap on the previous 30 days of activity across our industry. As we put a bow on 2021, we’re doing the same thing for the past 12 months, which should give you some perspective on the big things we’ve seen – and what might lay ahead in 2022.
As you peruse the highlights from each month, you’ll see a few common themes stand out: the continued energy around headless CMS, the elevated focus on headless commerce, and the rise of composable systems and DXPs. It’s interesting to see what companies are leading the innovation and investment in these critical areas, and we’ll be following them closely as we turn the corner into 2022.
Let’s ring in the New Year, shall we?
2021 started with a bang across the enterprise bow, beginning with Sitecore’s announcement of an ambitious $1.2 billion investment strategy – one of the largest such deals ever in the martech space. While soft on specifics, the plan called for an expansion in a range of areas, from product innovation to global staffing to brand awareness.
Shortly after, Acquia – another leader on the Gartner Magic Quadrant for DXPs – introduced its new Acquia Digital Commerce platform, which brings together Lucidworks’ AI-driven personalization and recommendations with headless commerce powered by commercetools.
Finally, Episerver announced that following its acquisition of Optimizely in September of 2020, the company would be consolidating under the Optimizely brand – marking the company’s new vision for delivering “optimization as a service.”
Following in the footsteps of January’s movers and shakers, Bloomreach – a leading DXP – broke the news on its acquisition of Exponea, a customer data and experience platform. This came just months after announcing a strategic partnership with the CDP. The news also included a $150 million investment for powering their SaaS e-Commerce expansion.
Andy Jassy, CEO of AWS (and the newly anointed king of Amazon.com), also made some prophetic statements about the future of the cloud. He wasn’t aware of the massive outage awaiting AWS in December – but nonetheless, his vision of a world of cloud services has been spot on, with AWS seeing significant growth in 2021.
Last but not least, we saw the publishing of Gartner’s 2021 Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms, which didn’t offer any shocking surprises. The same players continue to duke it out for pole positions in the Leader quadrant, with Adobe still setting the bar. What’s worth noting is Sitecore’s slip from second chair, falling behind Acquia and Optimizely. It will be interesting to see how the scores stack up when the 2022 report is released in a few months.
Also worth noting from February: WordPress VIP’s acquisition of Parse.ly, which would mark the first of two acquisitions from the open source leader in 2021.
In like a lion, out like a lamb. Right off the bat, Adobe was now in the headless hunt with the announcement of their new headless CMS capabilities. The DXP leader also pushed updates to its Commerce Integration Framework for Adobe Experience Manager, providing a more seamless storefront authoring experience that extends services from Magento and other commerce systems.
The rest of the month was a whirlwind of acquisitions, with Sitecore announcing its “double-header” purchase of Boxever and Four51, enhancing its personalization and customer data posture. Hyland also acquired Nuxeo, a digital asset management (DAM) system, followed by Optimizely’s purchase of Zaius, a leading CDP. Crownpeak topped it off with their acquisition of e-Spirit – a competitive CMS with a slightly larger headcount.
We also covered the GatsbyConf, where the static revolution was on full display. We sat through a number of the sessions, and you can read more about it here.
Finally, we featured a great snapshot of the CMS market for 2021, written by one of our resident CMS critics, Janus Boye – and much of it still holds true. Give it a gander.
Showers and flowers aside, we saw the JAMstack in full bloom – and our article on the top static site generators for 2021 was one of our most popular of the year.
The slide to summer in the Northern Hemisphere was marked by Sitecore’s acquisition of Moosend, an AI-powered email marketing automation platform. Along with the CDP and personalization purchases, this final piece added the most robust set of tools to their scaling CDP ecosystem.
May also featured our comprehensive review of the top flat file CMS platforms for building simple websites fast. This was another of our most popular pieces of the year, showcasing the continued innovation in this niche segment of the CMS marketplace. You can check it out here.
We also featured another great collection on the best scanning tools for digital accessibility, which continues to be a key challenge for websites and apps.
The heat turned up in June as Contentstack announced a $57.5 million Series B investment round, giving the headless CMS a big boost to power its aggressive growth plans. We had a chance to interview CEO Neha Sampat about what’s ahead for Contentstack, and you can read our interview here.
We also did an in-depth review of UXPin’s Merge, which enables users of the prototyping platform to sync their design libraries with React components in Git. Very cool stuff, and worth checking out.
WordPress fans virtually attended WordCamp Europe 2021 in June, getting a first glimpse of WordPress 5.8 beta and a number of Gutenberg enhancements. Our editorial team had a chance to sit in on a number of sessions from WordPress experts and authorities, and it was well worth the time.
WP Engine also released the world’s first comprehensive study of the WordPress economy, citing some awe-inspiring statistics. The company also released its new Enterprise WordPress Platform.
Finally, Sanity, a headless CMS, announced $39 million in Series B funding, making it the latest platform to supercharge its growth plans with outside investment. We had a chance to interview CEO Magnus Hillstead about where content is headed in 2021 and beyond. You can read our interview here.
The mid-summer mark saw the release of our top free headless CMS collection, easily one of our most popular posts of 2021. Headless was on fire this year, with large platforms like Adobe entering the segment with headless CMS offerings. This was a fun one, as every platform featured had to offer a free option. A great read with some terrific options to consider.
Acquia also introduced composable enterprise features in the latest version of their DXP, further expanding the rise of composable platforms.
As summer waned, we had a chance to cover Storyblok’s expanded partner program with a major U.S. agency, marking the growth of their global strategy. We talked to Storyblock’s VP of Partners, Barry D’Arcy, about how this move will impact the headless CMS’ fortunes moving into a highly competitive market.
Speaking of which: we also covered Contentful’s $175 million investment round, which sent a shockwave across the headless CMS market. As mentioned, headless was on fire this year – and Contentful was the latest unicorn to score major funding in the digital experience sector.
Joomla! turned 16 in August of 2021, and we had an opportunity to listen in on some of the planned community celebrations around the globe. The anniversary also marked the long-awaited release of Joomla! 4.0.
Umbraco, a legacy player in the CMS market, announced its acquisition by Monterro, an investment house with a long track record in the digital experience space. We had a chance to interview CEO Kim Sneum Madsen about the challenges of the CMS market, the rise of headless, and what’s next for Umbraco.
In “feel good” news, Solodev announced their selection as the Cloud Consulting Partner for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games. The cloud app and CMS vendor has built a highly-scalable serverless solution on AWS to power a fan engagement experience for the Games, which will be held next June.
Fall swept in with another busy round of buying, starting with Adobe’s purchase of Frame.io, a video collaboration platform. Sitecore also expanded its aggressive shopping spree, acquiring Reflektion – an AI-powered search platform that helps predict patterns, context, and needs to turn more shoppers into buyers.
Duda, the acclaimed website builder, also made a snack of Snipcart, expanding its digital commerce capabilities. The company has already seen a 265% year-over-year increase in e-Commerce sites built on its platform, demonstrating the continued transformation of online retail during a persistent pandemic. We spoke with CEO Itai Sadan about the company’s plans and how Snipcart plays into the strategy.
Not to be overshadowed by its enterprise competitors, Automattic – the company that essentially owns the managed side of WordPress – made a notable acquisition of Frontity, an open source React framework. The key here is that WordPress will now offer headless capabilities, allowing it to compete more aggressively in this growing segment of CMS. In the same breath, WordPress announced its intention to maintain its Classical Editor, bowing to the chorus of unrest over Gutenberg and the planned sunset of the adopted editing experience.
Acquia rounded out an active month with the purchase of Widen, which is poised to expand the DXP’s digital asset management (DAM) and product information management (PIM) capabilities and maximize the value of content in their ecosystem.
In other news: Canva, the unicorn that’s making graphic design accessible to everyone, announced a massive $200 million investment round and Progress announced the launch of Sitefinity DX 14.0, a much-awaited update with global scale and a number of new features.
Things got cooler the following month, but we still followed a number of interesting stories, starting with ButterCMS and its new localization capabilities. We had a chance to chat with Butter’s CEO, Jake Lumetta, about the new features and where things are headed in the CMS market.
There were other upgrades we covered in October. Umbraco announced version 9 of its platform – which, according to the company, “future proofs” its CMS with a complete move to .NET 5/ASP.NET Core. Sitecore also launched its first enterprise SaaS offering, while Contentful and Conscia introduced Unify, a multi-space orchestration app for personalization and headless commerce.
In the spirit of Halloween, we published our top headless commerce platforms for 2021. While headless CMS was undoubtably the talk of the town this year, headless commerce continued to elevate its presence – and our team had a lot of fun reviewing, analyzing, and submitting our picks for the best platforms on the market.
As autumn slipped away, we saw more news about composable features, driven in large part by the rise of the MACH Alliance. To that end, Acquia upgraded its Open DXP capabilities, expanding its composable enterprise features.
In the same MACH vein, Postman released its 2021 “State of the API” report, sharing global trend data that demonstrates the move towards an API-first digital era. There’s some amazing insight in this report, and we cover the highlights in our analysis. Definitely worth checking out.
Kentico Kontent also announced some advancements to its enterprise headless offering, enhancing scalability, refreshing its UI, and upgrading a number of features in the Kontent platform.
Acquisition news was light in November, but we did cover commercetools and their purchase of Frontastic, a composable frontend platform. This gives the headless commerce vendor a key component in its growth strategy, which follows a $140 million Series C funding round. Again, we see composable playing an important role as platforms map their next steps.
The holiday season began with Solodev announcing the availability of their cloud-first CMS for Kubernetes via contract pricing in the AWS Marketplace. This makes it the first platform of its kind to offer a “containers anywhere” solution, allowing users to run their CMS in other cloud environments via an AWS Marketplace subscription. The news was featured AWS re:Invent, the cloud provider’s annual event held in Las Vegas.
Strapi also released version 4 of its open source headless CMS, focusing on enhanced plugins and improved API performance. The system also sports a new UI that elevates the user experience. With more than 40,000 Github stars and 3.5 million downloads, it’s one of the fastest-growing Node.js CMS platforms on the market.
On the investment side of the news ledger, Uniform – a composable DXP – scored an impressive $28 million Series A round. What’s remarkable is that the company ramped up just 15 months ago, driven by the growing demand for MACH-aligned composable solutions that complement existing headless CMS and commerce solutions.
Optimizely (formerly Episerver) also purchased Welcome, a content marketing (CMP), marketing resource management (MRM), and digital asset management (DAM) platform. The acquisition signals that Optimizely’s quest to provide “optimization as a service” is expanding further into the realm of the marketer – right where it should be.
2022 looks poised to be the year of composability. We’ve covered numerous stories across the industry over the last 12 months, and it’s clear that almost every vendor is adding composable features to their mix (although, according the MACH Alliance, a phenomenon coined as “MACH washing” is confusing buyers who are evaluating truly composable solutions).
If one thing is clear, it’s this: the CMS and DXP landscape has never been more exciting. The pace of acquisitions and consolidation continues to be healthy, the race among the enterprise leaders is growing more competitive, and smaller platforms are disrupting the game with innovative solutions. Whether or not that pace continues will be influenced by a number of factors, from Covid to the general economic climate.
Cost will continue to be a motivating factor for buyers, and the rise of free (or near free) platform options may pose a challenge to mid-tier vendors. As Gartner’s research reflects, the leading enterprise players have filled their data gaps by purchasing CDPs – but the buying spree went well beyond the customer data layer. In fact, it’s fair to say that things are looking more monolithic than they have in quite some time.
That’s a wrap on 2021!
From the entire editorial team here at CMS Critic, we want to thank you – our readers – for sharing your thoughts and insights with us. Each month, many of you reach out to tell us what you think, and we appreciate your input. It helps to inform our subject matter and shape our mission, and for that, we are truly grateful.
Don't forget: the nominations for our 2021 CMS Critic People's Choice Awards are open until January 15th! Now's your opportunity to tell us which platforms you love, and which should be considered for voting on in the general Awards. By the way, we have two new categories this year for "Best Headless Commerce Platform" and "Best Composable System." We've already had a great response from our audience – but anyone can vote, so get involved!
As always, it's a thrill to serve our CMS and DXP communities, and we look forward to continuing that commitment in 2022 and beyond.
Have a safe and happy New Year!