Headless WordPress: Not Only the Horseman Can Be Headless

Content Management System

29 Jul 2022

Laura Jones

Chances are you have heard the term ‘Headless WordPress’ thrown around the digital water cooler, but what exactly is it?

When you hear “headless CMS,” you probably can’t help but picture the Headless Horseman, the disgruntled dude from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, riding off on his black stallion. Don’t worry, nobody’s talking about beheading internet users. In the online world, “headless” refers to some cool technology that many businesses are implementing to streamline their sites to keep up with users’ demands and increase revenue. And such technology can be used with one of the leading CMS on the market today. WordPress.

Queen Of Hearts - "Off with their heads" GIF

What Is WordPress?

WordPress is a powerful content managing system (CMS) thanks to its ecosystem of plugins, themes, and other resources. It allows you to create, manage and update your content as often as required. As it stands it is widely used and loved. It continues to be one of the most popular CMS to date.

More than 40% of ALL websites use WordPress to some extent.

While WordPress is an excellent platform, sometimes flexibility is needed to improve a website.

When this is the case, utilising WordPress as a headless CMS can prove to work to your advantage. But first, allow us to explain what a headless CMS is…

What Is A Headless CMS?

A Content Management System (CMS) usually comes with two parts: the front end (‘the head’) and the back end (‘the body’). The front end is the interface of the website that visitors see and interact with. On the other hand, the backend is the part that represents the server, where the code and database is stored. The backend is used to create, customise, and manage the content of a website such as pages and blog posts etc.

Usually, both the backend and front end are built using the same language and framework and are ‘coupled’ together in the same system. You can manage your resources as well as the front-end visuals (using themes and block editors) from the dashboard.

On the contrary, when a CMS is Headless or decoupled, the front end (the head) is built using a different framework such as React, Next.js, Gatsby, Vue.js. which is standalone. Since the head is getting separated and uses a different framework it is known as a Headless CMS. However, it’s not headless, not really, it is just using a different head!

So, how does this relate to WordPress we hear you ask?

WordPress by default is not a Headless CMS but thanks to REST APIs (Both front and backend share data via WordPress REST API) you can turn it into a Headless CMS. Once WordPress is headless, the ‘What You See Is What You Get’ editor is disabled, and the REST API is then used to manage the front-end of your website.

Basically, once you make changes on the WordPress backend, the data is sent to the front end via WordPress REST API and then the front-end framework takes the data and implements it on the front end. 

Are you wondering why would someone do that? Because it seems like taking a rather long route to do the same thing. 

Well, no one takes the long and difficult route unless it has something good to offer!

A headless setup isn’t the best solution for all WordPress users. However, there are times when this configuration is ideal for businesses. Next, let’s look at why a business might want to try a headless WordPress setup.

Ready to discuss a project?

Find out how we can help you grow your business.

Benefits of Headless WordPress

Faster Performance

WordPress websites that are powered by frontends, such as React or Vue.js, are incredibly smooth and responsive. When the front end is separate from the back end, your website will see a significant increase in load time, you can start assembling static HTML pages which will be sent to web users immediately upon request.

Improved Security

A headless website is server-side generated so the website visitor has no relationship to the database. This is great in terms of security. A hacker needs something to hack, with a Headless WordPress website, they have nothing to hack. While it wouldn’t be impossible to locate and access your database, it will be significantly more difficult if your front end is separated from the back end. Nevertheless, there are steps you can take to protect your WordPress site without going headless, but the security benefit is one more bonus of a headless setup.

Greater Flexibility

While WordPress provides you with a solid amount of customisation options when it comes to the front end, with a Headless WordPress site that amount multiplies. By opting for a headless WordPress CMS, you can maintain the back-end content management part of WordPress that you are familiar with and love so much while outsourcing the front-end part to another technology stack which allows greater flexibility in terms of coding and whatnot. In doing this, you are not constrained by WordPress limitations, and you can alter the design of your site as much as you desire without having to worry about the content changing at all. 

Scalability & Multi-Channel Publishing

When starting out with your WordPress site you’ll most likely use it for your standard desktop and mobile websites. And that might be perfectly fine, to begin with. However, some scaling businesses may want to send their content to additional interfaces, like mobile apps, social media sites, smart devices as well as virtual assistants such as Alexa. If this is the case, then a Headless WordPress site can serve as a centralised source for multiple publishing channels. Additionally, when you make changes to the content in the CMS, this change is automatically echoed across every device connected to it.

Is Headless WordPress Always the Best Solution?

Absolutely not. 

A Headless WordPress setup is not the best solution for everyone. 

Here are a few cases where using the headless WordPress approach is suitable:

  • Your company is seeking a robust content management system that supports multichannel publishing.
  • You are building an app and want to hook it to a CMS to populate it with content.
  • You have been with WordPress and want to stick with it but are also looking to branch out into new technologies.
  • You need to speed up your website.
  • Your site’s primary concern is security.
  • You are an agency or a freelancer who doesn’t often update the website.
  • Your site has a complex design.
  • Your site has a short lifespan.

If can relate to any of the above-mentioned points, Headless WordPress is the right fit for you.

On the other hand, WordPress as a Headless CMS may not be suitable for you if:

  • Aren’t prepared to deal with extra configuration for optimizing security and performance
  • Heavily rely on dynamic content.
  • Cannot do without WordPress’s assortment of plugins and themes.
  • You want to build a simple blog or small business website with zero multi-channel publishing.
  • Login to WP Admin every other day.
  • Manage a site that needs daily maintenance.

In these cases, a traditional WordPress content management system may be a great solution for you.

Examples of Headless WordPress Sites.


Need A More Flexible WordPress Website? Try Going Headless.

While Headless WordPress will not end traditional WordPress as we know it, it’s a viable option for businesses large enough to support the cost of implementation and maintenance. It might seem like more work at first to get started, but a headless approach could save you tons of time down the road and grant you more front-end flexibility than WordPress ever could out-of-the-box.

If you are interested in a Headless WordPress site, then talk to one of our experts today.

Did you enjoy this article?

Join our mailing list


Let's kickstart your project