Can WordPress be used as headless cms?

Headless CMS has been a rising trend – and popular buzzword – in digital content management for several years. The term CMS stands for content management system. This article explains the concept of the headless CMS, its benefits, and the type of companies that are going headless. Additionally, it shows how the digital content apocalypse has driven the change from traditional or legacy content management systems to more modern headless systems.

What is a headless CMS ?

A headless content management system, or headless CMS, is a back-end-only content management system that acts primarily as a content repository. A headless CMS makes content accessible via an API for display on any device without a built-in front-end or presentation layer.

The benefits of a headless CMS are immediate and compelling:

  • Instead of having to implement multiple, parallel content management system instances, e.g., to support web and mobile channels, a single headless CMS instance can serve unlimited digital channels.
  • A single source of content, such as a product description for an online catalog, can automatically adapt to its publishing environment and present itself optimally for its destination.
  • The separation of code and content in a headless CMS makes life easier for content editors, who can ignore the code and exclusively focus on the content for which they are responsible.
  • Developers, meanwhile, can use all the latest tools and frameworks to bring content experiences to life on any modern platforms, without being locked into a proprietary language or other limitations of a particular content management system.
  • Content delivered via APIs is significantly easier to integrate, manipulate, and distribute, reducing the time it takes to create content-driven experiences, including sites and apps.

While many websites continue to be well served by the traditional CMS architecture, digital business leaders want to benefit from the improved time to market, the compelling economics and overall efficiencies that headless content management systems offer.

Can WordPress be used as headless CMS ?

WordPress is sometimes referred to as a ‘monolithic’ CMS. This means that, while it does have a robust back end for content creation and organization, it is still built to be pretty concerned with front-end display. WordPress also wraps display functionality into themes and plugins, so the front and back ends are tied together.

You can, however, take advantage of WordPress’s excellent content management functionality and effectively decapitate it, leaving you with a fast and lightweight headless CMS. By using WordPress’ REST API, you can extend the content management you’ve crafted in WordPress beyond your theme. 

In this scenario, you would still be able to use all the platform’s back-end functionality, but it would become a reactive system. Content would wait to be called upon and respond accordingly. This is in stark contrast to the current, more proactive way that WordPress pushes or delivers content to primarily browser-based sites. 

Perhaps the best thing you can do with a headless CMS is essentially future-proof your content. As long as the API endpoint still exists, content can be called forth. A headless CMS means you’re creating a developer-focused, API-first system, rather than focusing on how the back-end administration will feed the front-end design. 

Therefore, going headless enables you greater flexibility in migrating content if you need to, since you won’t be tied so tightly to themes and plugins. From a marketing standpoint, you’re also able to create personalized customer journeys, without filing a ticket every time you want to add or change some content. 

This is a great option for developers who want to deliver content to both Android and iOS platforms from the same back end. Another use case for a headless structure is websites or applications that use JavaScript frameworks like AngularJS, VueJS or React. 

Headless WordPress Benefits

At this point, we’ve already mentioned a few of the benefits of going with a headless WordPress architecture for your content management. However, there are plenty of additional advantages:

  • Greater control. When you uncouple WordPress, you gain nearly endless control from a development standpoint. Front-end developers can get creative with dynamic uses of JavaScript, and deliver an ‘outside the template’ experience.  
  • Increased scalability. When you develop with a headless system, you can scale it up very quickly. Your content can continue to build, and since you are now an API-first shop, you can respond to new user needs in a snap. 
  • Tighter security. Decoupled and headless approaches minimize risk to your content. Since your content lives separate from your front-end delivery, it is not as exposed or at risk to third-party application issues. 
  • Lightweight design. When you go headless, you shed some serious weight. Since your system now consists of just a content database and API calls, your content delivery can be responsive, sleek, and fast. 

When you consider the many benefits of decoupling your WordPress structure, it might be just what you need. This is especially true if you are comfortable developing outside the standard CMS package, and you want your content to be accessible on all devices. 

Potential Issues With Headless WordPress

Before you get started, however, it’s worth noting that there are some drawbacks to taking WordPress into a decoupled or headless state. If you have a small website that delivers simple content, you’ll likely want to review these potential issues before taking the plunge:

  • No WYSIWYG editor. A truly headless approach means you will lose your live preview option. You won’t be able to easily test what the front-end user will see.
  • Advanced programming. If you didn’t previously need a front-end programmer, you will now. You’ll require some more advanced libraries to really make the most of a headless system. 
  • More maintenance. This really comes into play with a decoupled setup. You may end up with two systems to maintain, especially in terms of updates and security.
  • Tougher credentialing. A headless system requires different credentialing of users than a coupled CMS. This can be a tedious task, although it does lead to a more secure environment. 

Once you take into consideration the needs of your site and what you want to achieve, you can decide if a headless CMS is right for you. 

Hosting Headless WordPress

Moving to a headless CMS could open up new doors for your content, but it doesn’t eliminate the need for reliable hosting. We have support and information that might help if you plan on using WordPress to create a headless CMS. This includes troubleshooting REST API issues and standard WordPress functionality problems, along with providing fast and reliable hosting services.


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