In this post, we’re going to introduce the concept of a headless CMS, and discuss how it’s relevant to WordPress users. We’ll also offer some guidance for how to decide whether it’s right for you.
Let’s get started!
What Is a Headless CMS?
Before we dive into headless WordPress, let’s explore what a headless CMS is in general. First, it’s important to clarify the term ‘CMS’ itself. A Content Management System (CMS) is a complete solution for creating and managing online content (such as WordPress). It can be contrasted with simpler platforms such as website builders, which are easier to use but offer far less flexibility.
So, what about the ‘headless’ part of the term? All websites consist of a front end, which is how the site appears to users, and a back end. The latter controls how the website’s data is managed and stored, and is where you’ll make customizations, add content, tweak elements via coding, and so on.
However, headless architecture cuts off the front end, or ‘head’, of the platform. By separating the front end from the back end, you can manage both separately. This enables you to smoothly move content from one platform to another. For example, a headless CMS could push new content to your business’ website, Google Calendar, and Facebook all at once.
You may be wondering how this all relates to your WordPress website. Although WordPress was not initially intended to be a headless CMS, its development has shifted in that direction in recent years. This enables you to keep your current WordPress site, and still take advantage of the latest technological advances.
In 2016, WordPress’ developers created the REST API, giving users the power to make their WordPress sites headless. Almost any WordPress theme can be made headless using this technique. With headless WordPress, the ‘What You See Is What You Get’ (‘WYSIWYG’) editor is disabled, and key functions are instead managed through the REST API.
By default, WordPress is non-headless, using a traditional architecture that combines the front and back ends. That’s not necessarily a problem. You can use the built-in Block Editor or even our own Divi Builder (or both) to make custom changes. However, there are plenty of reasons to consider using headless WordPress instead.
Why You Might Want to Use Headless WordPress
Now that we’ve covered what headless WordPress is in a general sense, let’s talk about the advantages of using it. One of the primary reasons to opt for this over a more traditional WordPress installation is to simplify multichannel content publishing. That’s the process of posting content on more than one platform at the same time. This can include your business’ calendar, social media platforms, and even the Internet of Things (IOT).
By removing the front end, headless WordPress can be easily integrated into many different ‘stacks’. A stack is essentially the infrastructure of an app or digital product. Multichannel publishing can be a huge time saver if your business has many channels to maintain. Instead of reformatting content for each platform separately, you’ll only need to publish once.
This can be crucial, especially for large companies with dozens of target platforms to keep track of. Instead of having to constantly reformat your posts, you can set up headless WordPress to automatically share new content on all the channels that matter to you. This can free up your staff to work on more important tasks – such as creating and marketing that content.
Another advantage of headless WordPress is that it can improve your website’s speed. Performance is important for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), as well as for user experience. About 40% of people will abandon a site that takes over three seconds to load. Headless WordPress speeds up your site and helps you avoid that problem, since it simplifies the process by which content loads on the user’s end. That can make it an invaluable tool for large and complex sites.
When Headless WordPress Isn’t the Best Solution
Additionally, smaller businesses without unwieldy publishing volumes may see less results from implementing a headless CMS. In those cases, the cost of implementing this technology may outweigh the benefits, especially if you don’t already have a web development team in place.
If you do decide that you’d like to try headless WordPress for yourself, you have two basic routes you can take. The simplest is to hire a developer to help you set everything up. If you’d like to get your hands dirty, however, we’d recommend starting by brushing up on (or familiarizing yourself with) React JS. For more details, check out our full post on React JS for WordPress users.
In a nutshell, a headless CMS is a way to decouple traditional front- and back-end interfaces, in order to create content that isn’t tethered to a specific platform. Although it wasn’t originally designed for that purpose, WordPress can now be used as a headless CMS. That’s especially true if you have a knowledgeable coder on your team.
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