What is Headless WordPress & How to build a headless WordPress site?

By: Nahida Haque / 11 October 2021
Headless WordPress Developer

WordPress has been a quintessential content management system for millions of businesses, both large and small. It’s the preferred choice for many big names, from Microsoft and Sony to CNN and even Jay Z.

But lately, there has been a new buzzword linked to the popular CMS: headless WordPress. As confusing as it may sound, it’s gaining more and more attention, particularly in the developer circles. But headless WordPress presents some attractive opportunities for entrepreneurs and marketers too. So, it pays to dig deep into this growing phenomenon to find out how your brand could benefit.

And in this article, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know about headless WordPress, including what it could do for your business and why you would need a headless WordPress developer to help you along the way.
Let’s dive in.

What is headless WordPress?

For many non-tech professionals, the term “headless WordPress” could sound a tad gruesome. But I can assure you there’s no bloodshed involved. To explain headless WP, you first need to understand how WordPress works.

It’s a CMS with two essential components: a back end and a front end. The back end is what you would typically interact with as a marketer, blogger, or developer. It’s where you upload and edit content, store and manage it, and tweak your site’s appearance. The front end, on the other hand, is what your users or customers interact with. It’s the front face of your site. In the WordPress world, this is the “head” of your CMS.

Now, the front end and back end of your WordPress site work in tandem. They are essentially tied together, and one can’t function without the other. Of course, this amalgamation has many benefits, but it also brings in quite a few limitations. For instance, it could prevent you from sharing CMS content with other platforms. But by severing the so-called “head” or the front-end component, you are left with a headless WordPress CMS. And the result? The back-end tools and platforms become free to integrate with others that were traditionally off-limits for your WP CMS.

In a way, headless WordPress is the future of web development. It can help your CMS break free from many earlier limitations and open up opportunities for you to harness its full potential.

The advantages of developing headless WordPress sites

So, why would you want to use a headless WordPress? Can’t the typical WP site get the job done? It certainly can, but a WordPress headless CMS could potentially make things even better. Here’s how.

1. Enable cross-platform publishing

Many businesses work with multiple content publishing platforms, both internal and external. These can range from social media and websites to blogs and apps. But taking the content stored within a typical WordPress site and publishing it across several platforms is a time-consuming process. Sometimes, reformatting the content and publishing on each channel could take just as much time as it would take to create it. The whole process could be a serious drain on your resources. If only there were a better way!

This is where a WordPress headless CMS would come in. Unlike the traditional CMS, a headless WP could be easily integrated with multiple platforms so that publishing content becomes a breeze for your team.

2. Boost site speed

We all know how WP is a super-friendly platform to build websites. With plenty of plugins and an easy-to-use interface, it can provide lots of functionality to a site of any scale. But before you know it, all these features could also make your site heavy. And a sluggish website could be detrimental to a business in many ways.

According to Think with Google, as your page load time goes from 1 to 5 seconds, the “probability of bounce” goes up by a staggering 90%. Now, that could be a fatal blow to your site’s ability to drive traffic, engage visitors, and boost conversions. And to make matters worse, site speed is an important criterion for Google algorithms to determine whether or not your content should win a coveted place in its SERPs.

If you’re getting anxious just thinking about all these, a headless WordPress CMS could be an excellent solution for you.

3. Ramp up site security

Keeping a website secure is a priority for any business. A breached site could expose your sensitive business data and compromise your competitive edge. It could damage your reputation, drive away customers, and cripple sales. All these, coupled with the disruptions of downtime and the costs of recovery, could leave a serious hole in your top and bottom line. So, site security is a natural source of concern for website owners.

But there are many security perks to separating the back end CMS from the front end. A WordPress headless CMS could help ramp up security with extra protection, particularly from DDoS and brute force attacks.

4. Gain incredible control and scalability

The feature-rich functionality of WordPress could easily make you feel as if you’re in full control of your content management and publishing processes. After all, you get to store and maneuver different types of content within your website and add various design elements to make it more attractive. You also get countless plugins to make your life effortless and efficient.

But headless WP takes control and scalability to another level. By separating your site’s front and back ends, you can gain incredible control over how you manage and use your WP CMS content. For instance, you could integrate it with different technologies, languages, apps, and platforms and add new functionality, scale, and efficiencies.

5. Simplify redesigns

Redesigning your WordPress site could be a complicated process. Well, not the actual designing part, but rather the process of getting it online. It could lead to substantial downtime and prevent you from back-end publishing for a while.

So, what can headless WordPress do to simplify this process? When the back end is working independently, there’s little to no impact on the CMS from a website redesign. You can continue to work on the back-end headless WP while you spruce up the front-end aesthetics. It can make redesigns significantly easier, smoother, and far less time-consuming, whether you’re working with an app or a website on the front end.

6. Gain better adaptability to newer technologies

Let’s face it, technology is evolving at a dramatic pace. The hottest tools today could be obsolete in just a few months. While this has many advantages from a design, functionality, and security standpoint, it could also pose serious challenges for website owners. Keeping up with trends could be costly and time-consuming. And to make use of the latest technologies, the platforms you’re using today need to possess flexibility and adaptability to integrate with minimum hassle.

Headless WordPress is a definite winner when it comes to future-proofing your CMS. An API-driven WP CMS can provide remarkable adaptability so you can integrate it with all the latest technologies, apps, and platforms.

Disadvantages of a headless WordPress

Now, looking purely at the benefits of a headless WordPress site without considering any downsides will not do you any good. Every coin has two sides, and so does headless WP. While its advantages may far outweigh the drawbacks, it’s still important to understand what to expect before making the transition.

1. Headless WordPress CMS requires technical expertise.

Of course, WordPress simplifies website building. It’s the main reason behind WP’s phenomenal popularity. Anyone from a small business owner to a blogger could set up a website and publish content on a WP platform.

But headless WordPress CMS is a different story. It requires considerable technical expertise to set up and maintain. You will need to develop the front-end website from scratch and implement the security infrastructure with, for example, OAuth2 and throttling features. And unlike the hassle-free automatic updates and the minimal maintenance requirements of traditional WordPress, a headless CMS will need ongoing human intervention to ensure it continues to perform at its best.

All these will require coding and technical expertise, which you will most likely not possess in-house. This is why many businesses partner with a headless WordPress developer to take care of their CMS. Of course, it will need an additional budget. But considering the enormous benefits you could enjoy by going headless, it will often be worth the investment.

2. You’ll lose access to plugin functionality.

The universal appeal of plugins stems from the amazing ease and convenience they offer when it comes to integrating features and functionality. Whether you want to add a share button or boost up security, there’s a plugin to serve your every need. But when you’re on a WordPress headless CMS, you’re going to lose access to many of these plugins. And this could complicate things a bit.

For instance, if you want to add a form to your new website, you can no longer rely on a plugin to conjure it up at a click of a button. You’ll need to do some coding to set it up instead. So, if you’re addicted to plugins, brace yourself for a slightly more complex life without them.

3. Publishing could get complicated without a WYSIWYG editor.

The WYSIWYG editor is one of the best features of WordPress that makes it an easy-to-use platform even for the uninitiated. Its live previews allow you to instantly visualize the impact of whatever work you do on the back end. Say, for example, you’re formatting a blog post. With the WYSIWYG editor, you get to preview how the end-user will see it before even hitting the publish button.

But there is no WYSIWYG editor with headless WP since it’s detached from the front-end component. This makes publishing difficult if you don’t have sufficient expertise and experience working headless. But for an expert headless WordPress developer, working without a presentation layer is not much of a problem.

How to build a headless WordPress site

As you have probably figured by now, building a headless WordPress site could be a complicated process for someone with no technical expertise. But it doesn’t hurt to understand the basic steps it would involve.

You’ll first need to separate the CMS from its front end. The easiest way to get this done is with some coding. You can also use a plugin like WP Headless. Then comes the hard part: setting up the front-end website, hosting, and security infrastructure and linking the CMS with the new site and any other publishing platform you want to connect. Of course, it’s not all about coding. There are plenty of new technologies and tools like REST API to help you out. But the entire process is not as simple as it may sound. It will demand considerable technical knowledge, time, and resources. So, the help of an expert would be critical during this transition.

Using WordPress as headless CMS with React

Now, a headless CMS doesn’t mean much without a front end to publish your content. This is when a JavaScript front-end framework like React could come in handy. A WordPress headless CMS React integration can create a limitless potential for content publishing on beautiful, seamless, and efficient front-end app interfaces.

React is a popular framework for web and mobile applications that can speed up the development process of the front-end interface with its extensive library. It can also provide faster rendering and a lot of flexibility for developers. So overall, a headless WordPress CMS working with React could be an excellent choice for both you and your developer.

Headless WordPress for eCommerce website

So, how will headless WordPress fare with your eCommerce website? After all, online retail is the bread and butter for many modern-day businesses. So, it’s essential to understand how headless WP could impact your shopper experience and help boost your online sales.

Headless eCommerce can eliminate some of the critical limitations of a typical WP online store and bring substantial benefits to your company. For instance, it could speed up your customer’s shopping experience with a more lightweight setup. Then there’s the scalability factor that’s essential for a growing eCommerce business. Headless WP could also add extra layers of security, which is vital when dealing with payments and a ton of customer data.

And if you’re using WooCommerce like millions of others, its REST API capabilities will make the switch easier and seamless. Overall, headless WooCommerce could represent tremendous growth potential for your online store by overcoming the limitations of the traditional WP setup.

What is a headless WordPress developer?

A headless WordPress developer is an expert resource who could help take care of your end-to-end transition to a headless WP CMS. They can come in for a specific project or sign up for ongoing work on a monthly retainer or an annual contract. For the majority of businesses planning to switch their WordPress site to a headless CMS, approaching a developer is the first step of the transition process.

But before you hire, ensure you check their portfolio, level of experience, and testimonials. And check for any specific expertise you may require. For instance, if you’re dealing with an online store, the developer you hire should have experience in headless eCommerce.

And most importantly, you and your team should be comfortable working with the person you hire. Of course, they wouldn’t need to be physically present for this kind of work. Today, you can hire a headless WP developer from any part of the world and have the work seamlessly delivered from their remote locations.

Benefits of a headless WordPress developer

If you ever ask someone “why did you hire a headless WordPress developer?”, there are a few common reasons they will likely share. It’s important to understand them fully, so you know how a developer could help your business, too.

Here are the top reasons businesses turn to this type of professionals.

1. Benefit from their expertise.

As you know by now, setting up a headless WordPress CMS demands substantial technical knowledge and experience. You will also need a separate website or app as the front-end interface. Then there’s the setting up of the security infrastructure and the ongoing maintenance work. In fact, maintenance could be twice the work from earlier since you’ll have two separate front and back end infrastructures to work on. And without a WYSIWYG editor, visualizing the front-end impact of your back-end CMS activities is going to be a challenge. A headless WordPress developer could take care of all these technical aspects, so you don’t need to fret.

2. Save substantial time.

Now, even if you possess the technical expertise, setting up or maintaining a headless WordPress CMS could be too much for you to take on with your daily responsibilities. Besides, when you’re working with limited resources, you would rather have your team focusing on business-critical operational activities instead of tinkering with the CMS. By getting a headless expert involved, you get to separate responsibilities and roles and invest your resources where they are needed most.

3. Enjoy a higher level of flexibility.

A freelancing headless WordPress developer can offer a greater level of flexibility compared to a company with a large-scale developer team. Freelancing professionals will be more willing to accommodate your specific business requirements without all the add-ons. For example, you can determine the length of the contract and the types of services and change them as your business grows.

4. Make the best out of your budget.

Unlike a larger team, a freelancing developer will have far fewer overheads. They can also cut down on the frills, so you don’t have to pay for services you wouldn’t need right now. Besides, they can offer better rates that could match your budget. This is particularly important when you are a growth-stage business working with limited resources.

To recap

Headless WordPress could eliminate many of the limitations of your traditional WP CMS and significantly extend its functionality and capabilities. By detaching the back-end CMS from the front-end interface, you can enable cross-channel publishing, boost speed, ramp up security, gain better control, simplify redesign, and integrate with newer technologies.

Of course, it’s not without a few drawbacks, like losing access to your favorite plugins and the WYSIWYG editor. But the benefits it could offer might outweigh these few snags by a mile.

Want to make the switch to headless WordPress? Get in touch today to discuss how your business could benefit from an experienced headless WordPress expert.