Using WordPress as a Headless CMS

Wordpress as Headless CMS
Akash Shakya By Akash Shakya May 4th 2021

If you’re in marketing or website design, you’re already familiar with the term CMS. For those who aren’t, CMS stands for content management system.

A website’s content management system exists on the back-end, allowing administrators to create, publish, edit, and organize all content. A CMS can be connected or disconnected from a website’s front end or the part that visitors see.

Professionals have many different options when choosing how to host, format, and run their websites. This decision isn’t as simple as it seems, however. It can be one of the most important choices on how your website turns out.

Knowing the available options can help professionals make informed decisions about the future of their company’s website. Today we’ll look at one popular option, which is to use WordPress as a headless CMS. Continue reading to learn everything you need to on the topic.

What Is a Headless CMS?

A headless CMS is a system that exists solely for content. It handles the input, editing, storage, and organization on the back end of the website. An excellent headless content management system will be highly accessible without worrying about how the front end is impacted.

The alternative to a headless CMS is a coupled CMS. A coupled content management system is when all aspects of the front and back ends are tied together into one system. While coupled systems remain popular, more people are turning to headless CMS due to the many benefits associated with them.

Headless CMS vs. Decoupled CMS

Many people are confused about what it means to use a headless CMS versus a decoupled CMS. The two are similar but achieve the results of front and back end separation in different ways.

As discussed more in-depth throughout this article, a headless CMS separates the front and back ends but allows them to communicate. This makes the application reactive, thus improving the website experience for both developers and customers.

The primary point here, however, is that there is a lot of communication between the front and back in a headless system. Often, the two can be separated but housed together.

A decoupled content management system is slightly different. This is a CMS where the front end and back end are two entirely separate systems, without the same communication levels between them that you’ll see in a headless CMS.

In a decoupled CMS, one system is used for creating and storing content. One or more other systems are used for consuming the data created and presenting it to the public. These systems are housed separately and often have separate URLs (although not always).

An Introduction to WordPress

Most people have been introduced to WordPress, even if they didn’t realize it. About 455 million websites currently use WordPress to some extent. For reference, 455 million websites are equal to 33 percent or one-third of the whole internet.

WordPress is an open-source content management platform that was released in May of 2003. Although basic use of the system is free, paid options with additional features are also available. The WordPress platform features a plugin architecture and a template system referred to as “themes.”

The wide usage of WordPress is thanks primarily to its accessibility and beginner-friendly interface. There are many uses for WordPress beyond the beginner-friendly version, however.

Using a Headless WordPress

In its initial phase, WordPress already has a robust back end that facilitates impressive creation and organization. This is especially true when comparing the basic CMS with other free options. But a headless WordPress offers significant improvements for professionals looking to get more out of their websites.

When WordPress is used as a headless content management system, it takes away the significant emphasis the basic version has on the front-end display. Users still reap all the benefits of the platform’s back end without worrying about the front end.

REST API is the application interface program that allows WordPress to be used as a headless CMS. The API extends the content management system beyond basic themes, so it becomes reactive instead.

More About REST API and How It Functions

REST stands for Representational State Transfer, while API stands for Application Programming Interface. Therefore, a REST API is a set of concepts that enable modeling and access to your application’s data as a set of related collections or objects. The API provides an interface for your applications to interact directly with your WordPress website.

The Foundation of WordPress Block Editor

REST API is the foundation of the original WordPress Block Editor. In addition to other key benefits, the interface can enable your plugin, theme, or custom application. By doing this, the developer can manage and publish content to your website with only slightly more work than using the basic block editor itself.

How Rest API Facilitates a Headless CMS

To facilitate a headless content management system, the application provides endpoints in the form of URLs. Each endpoint represents a singular set data type that your WordPress site uses. These endpoints may be for:

  • Blog posts and articles
  • Individual web pages
  • Taxonomies

When your application sends or receives data to these endpoints, it’s able to ask questions, change content, or create new content. To enable this, developers need to learn the programming language spoken between the endpoints and your application.

Headless WordPress Benefits

As mentioned above, there are many benefits to using WordPress as a headless CMS. Below we look at each of these benefits in greater detail. Note, however, that this list isn’t all-inclusive, and other benefits may exist.

Developer-Focused

A headless CMS is more developer-focused. As an API, as long as the endpoint still exists, content can be called forth to meet demands. This is significantly easier for the website developer and presents a better customer experience.

By being an API first and foremost, a headless CMS allows content developers to focus solely on content. There’s no need to worry about how back-end content will affect the front-end experience. This separation allows for every developer to do exactly what they’re best at, thus delivering the best possible experience with the least amount of stress for everyone.

Content Migration Flexibility

Transferring to a headless CMS grants greater content migration flexibility. From a marketing point of view, this means it’s also easier to create personalized journeys. There’s no longer a need to file tickets every time a marketer wants to add or change content.

Greater Development Control

Developers gain nearly endless control by switching to a headless content management system. This doesn’t only apply to back-end developers, either.

Front-end developers can get more creative with design and interface by using JavaScript. With more freedom to deliver a unique design experience, your website can really stand out from the rest. Unique websites stand out better in potential customer’s minds, thus increasing the chance of making sales.

More Scalability

A coupled content management system can be a pain to scale up, and the ability is often limited to begin with. Headless systems can be scaled up quickly, however. Since they’re hyper-focused on API from the beginning, the response to new user needs is lightning fast and overall unrivaled.

Tighter Security

Want to keep business information safe and provide greater security for your user’s personal information? A headless CMS makes this simpler by keeping the front and back ends of your website separate. This leaves all information at a lower risk from third-party applications.

Potential Issues With Headless WordPress

While using WordPress as a headless CMS offers numerous benefits, there are potential issues in everything. A few of the possible downsides are detailed below. Keep in mind, this list isn’t all-inclusive, and other downsides exist.

Lack of Live Preview

When working with a coupled CMS, developers are usually granted access to a live preview. This helps ensure the content is correct in terms of formatting before going live. Many professionals have come to rely on this ability.

When using a headless WordPress CMS, however, there is no live preview. Developers who are used to working around these previews may find it difficult to adjust. Some may find they can’t adapt and would rather use a coupled CMS for the live preview alone.

Higher Front End Needs

Since the front end operates as a separate entity in headless systems, it’ll have higher needs than previously. If your company doesn’t already have a dedicated front-end developer, they’ll need to hire one. This can be a big jump for smaller companies with limited staff.

Increased Maintenance

By uncoupling your forward-facing interface and your back end, maintenance will be significantly increased. This is because the front and back ends of your website end up being completely separate systems. Each of these separate systems will require updates, security, and other forms of ongoing maintenance.

Headless WordPress Alternatives

If the general idea of using WordPress as a headless content management system appeals to you, but the specifics aren’t quite right, there are a few alternatives. While the following platforms are all technically meant to manage content, they all differ slightly in the specifics of what they can be used to do.

ButterCMS

This content management system is simpler to set up, requiring only a low to moderate working knowledge of application development to use. The trade-off is that ButterCMS offers fewer insights and data to back-end developers.

Agility CMS

This option is similar to WordPress in how it works and the results produced. But, Agility CMS comes with higher costs. In return, the system also provides better built-in security features.

Prismic

While the results of using this content management system are similar, producing them is significantly more complicated. To use Prismic, companies will need to hire a full-time, highly experienced developer to manage it. This isn’t the most practical option for small companies.

Contentful

This is marketed as a CMS for non-developers. In other words, anyone can use Contentful to its fullest with little to no training. The company only recently expanded to be a full content platform.

If You Want the Features but Don’t Have the Expertise

Many smaller companies would love to access the features of a headless CMS, but they don’t have the expertise to implement the change successfully. There isn’t room in the budget in many situations to hire one or more full-time developers, either.

In this situation, the best option is to outsource your website design and development to a dedicated agency. These agencies end up being more cost-effective because they focus on this sector of work exclusively. The individuals employed by the agency of your choosing will have invested in the tools and training necessary to transfer your website to a headless CMS successfully.

An additional benefit to outsourcing this work to an agency is the level of knowledge these professionals have. Since they focus on one specific sector day-in and day-out, they’re the best at what they do. You can concentrate on other essential tasks and feel secure that your website development is well taken care of.

More Questions About Using WordPress as a Headless CMS?

Using WordPress as a headless CMS offers numerous benefits and limited downsides. For many companies, the ability to scale up easier and offer a more customized front-end experience makes the transition to a headless system worthwhile.

Do you have more questions about using WordPress as a headless CMS? Or would you like professional assistance with your website?

Contact us today. One of our professionals can answer any questions you still have. They can also speak with you about professional website design and development if you’re interested.

Akash Shakya By Akash Shakya

Coming from distributed computing background, Akash manages the Sydney operations. He is highly technical yet very business focused and is always driven to create successful business products for our clients.

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