You use—or want to use WordPress—for your business’ website. You’re set on WordPress because you know it well, or you’ve heard about its user-friendliness. You start searching for solutions and a technical partner. You come across something new, “headless WordPress”. The features sound interesting, but what’s the business use case?
In this post, I’ll detail how headless WordPress can benefit your business and why it future-proofs your digital approach.
What Is Headless WordPress?
You might even build multiple websites or mobile apps from the content you add to WordPress.
The headless approach for developing websites and applications is similar to how WordPress plugins work. Pick and mix functionality. The big difference is you’re not tied to the WordPress ecosystem. You can introduce custom functionality and integrations from anywhere.
Let’s say you’d like to write blog content in WordPress but sell products with Shopify, you can do this within one website. Whatever services you want to add to your website, you can, with headless WordPress.
When thinking about using headless WordPress for your business, think of WordPress as being the content provider of your website. With the front-end being a separate presentation layer.
Why Go Headless?
- The websites created load fast
- The search, security and scalability benefits
- The modular architecture is a smart way to build
Meaning happier developers building websites and happier businesses receiving them.
Furthermore, Automattic (the parent company of WordPress.com and WooCommerce), lead a €1M funding round for Frontity, “The React framework for WordPress”. The backing of those at the top points to a bright future for headless WordPress.
WordPress-focused companies are investing in the active development and progression of headless WordPress too. WP Engine, one of the largest specialist WordPress website hosts in the world, have set up a specific team and service to introduce their customers to headless WordPress. It looks like they’ve also seen the future.
Because headless WordPress offers an enjoyable experience for development teams and the business case is compelling too.
So Why Should A Business Go Headless With Their Website?
Right now? To move ahead of the times. Soon after, to get with them.
In a competitive world—with business being done more online than ever—early adopters of new technology often reap the rewards.
There are benefits that your business can take advantage of now, and new ones arriving regularly that you can take advantage of in the future.
Why Go Headless With WordPress Specifically?
Because WordPress is an awesome headless CMS. And your team already loves it, or at least, has experience with it.
I’ve been developing websites professionally for over 12 years. There’s not a lot that I haven’t built on the platform; from marketing websites to multi-lingual eCommerce stores to private intranets.
The one request of people who want to manage their website themselves that won’t go away? The use of WordPress.
It’s a prerequisite for good reason. WordPress has been around for a long time and it isn’t going anywhere either. Marketing teams love it for its simplicity and familiarity. Technical teams love it for its extendability.
WordPress makes business sense.
When you add modern front-end tooling to WordPress, you level up the world’s most popular content management system. You no longer have to choose between a WordPress site or a Jamstack site.
With headless WordPress, you can have your cake, and eat it.
Could I Stick With Traditional WordPress?
You could, and should, in some circumstances.
If your business wants to use an off-the-shelf WordPress theme, a page builder like Elementor or try to achieve all functionality through free plugins, you’re probably not ready to invest in a headless WordPress website.
Your business has to be comfortable at the bleeding edge of web technology and understand that it takes work to be there. Although a headless WordPress website doesn’t have to be expensive, a WordPress website built quickly with a page builder plugin isn’t a like-for-like comparison.
The good news is, if you start with traditional WordPress, you can switch to headless WordPress at a later date. For example, your blog posts written in a traditional WordPress back-end can be pulled into a newly-built front-end when the time feels right.
Headless WordPress isn’t for every project, but for many, it can be the difference-maker. This is particularly true in enterprise spaces where headless technologies are already being rapidly adopted.
92% of enterprise respondents agree headless CMS technologies make it easier to deliver a consistent content experience
A study, undertaken by Vanson Bourne for WP Engine to assess the state of headless technology, found that 64% of enterprise organizations are currently using a headless approach.
With 92% of respondents saying that deploying headless technologies makes it easier to deliver a consistent content experience, it’s clear to understand why.
If everyone else in your niche is using traditional WordPress with the same set of off-the-shelf themes, a custom headless WordPress website is an effective way to stand out and get ahead.
Could I Use Another Headless CMS?
You could; new headless CMSs are launching all the time. But they aren’t WordPress and they don’t have as much behind them.
The overriding business case for headless WordPress is its editorial familiarity. Many people and their teams—who aren’t programmers—have been happily using WordPress for years. There’s a re-training phase when switching your website’s content management system. Which makes it understandable when businesses don’t want to go through that pain. Luckily, they don’t have to. Because WordPress is a great headless CMS:
- It’s flexible
- It’s open-source
- It’s free
WordPress’ success is built on its flexible foundations. The extendability of WordPress prevents businesses from boxing themselves in. You’re protected knowing that WordPress won’t become feature-sparse as your business grows.
Let’s say you start with a marketing website then want to integrate an eCommerce store, CRM (customer relationship management) system or LMS (learning management system) later. There may be suitable pre-built extensions to consider that will save you time. And if the right extensions aren’t available, you can build a custom integration on top of WordPress, getting you the exact functionality you’re looking for.
It’s a common misconception that WordPress can’t solve bigger digital problems. WordPress is one of the least limited headless CMSs around.
There’s flexibility on the side of data too. WordPress offers a REST API out of the box, while a GraphQL data layer available via the excellently maintained WPGraphQL. This segues into WordPress’ open-source advantage. All of WordPress’ core code is publically available. It’s not locked away for internal use only—like many other headless CMSs’ code. This encourages a rich ecosystem of additional tools—such as WPGraphQL—that a headless WordPress developer can leverage to move projects forward faster for their clients.
Consider cost too. WordPress (.org) is, and always will be, free to use. There are no monthly fees for the software, or fee scaling to worry about should your website’s number of users, pages or blog posts grow. The same can’t be said for other headless CMSs.
While WordPress is a big player historically, some might wonder where WordPress fits in the Jamstack, headless development and modern-web worlds. With its ease of use and extendability, I’d say it fits heavily involved, right in the middle.
How can headless WordPress benefit my business?
Let’s get specific. What’s the business case for headless WordPress and how can it help your business today?
Headless WordPress Can Make Your Website Fast
First and foremost, headless WordPress can give you a fast website. Websites that load quickly present your business in its best light. They delight your customers by reducing their wait. Whether reading your article, looking for directions to your premises or buying a product from you.
Businesses owe it to their customers to serve a performant website. With the average size of websites growing year-on-year, there’s a real cost to a user when loading an oversized page. You should consider those browsing on mobile devices and slower networks too. The larger a page on your website is, the more data this will cost someone loading your site in these circumstances. It’s your business’s responsibility to keep pages lean and loading times low as a byproduct.
Performance should be a concern of any business building a website or application. The last thing you want is to earn a visit and have the user bounce before taking action.
Performance plays a major role in the success of any online venture. High-performing sites engage and retain users better than low-performing ones.
The BBC revealed that they lose 10% of users from their website for every extra second a page takes to load. They also conclude that you should never compromise on speed. When new visitors arrive on your website, remember that first impressions count. I’ll guess that you’ve clicked away from a slow-loading website yourself, right?
When Pinterest reduced perceived loading times for their users by 40%, they increased search engine traffic and sign-ups to their service by 15%. The cost of taking performance seriously is typically offset by the upside it has on the discoverability of your website and thus your services and/or products.
Research by conversion optimisation specialists, Crazy Egg, found that each second your website spends loading causes a 7% loss in conversions. This highlights the importance that even minor performance improvements can make to your business’s bottom line. A 0.25-second improvement could boost your conversion rate by 1.75%. A significant increase that headless WordPress can help your business achieve.
Traditional WordPress can fall down on speed when a bloated theme or too many plugins with unnecessary options are used. On the flip side, the frameworks used for headless WordPress websites are built with speed in mind. You can attain solid, often perfect, PageSpeed Insights scores using headless WordPress with Next.js.
Using WordPress headlessly to serve your content to a framework like Gatbsy or Next.js opens you up to certain performance benefits. These front-end tools automate code-splitting, image optimisation, inlining of critical styles, component lazy loading and the prefetching of resources, ensuring your website starts off on the right foot with minimal configuration.
Google announced that site speed would be a ranking factor for desktop searches as early as 2010. Meaning the faster your website is—all other things being equal—the higher it will appear in the rankings when someone searches for the service or product that you offer. In 2018, they declared the same for mobile searches. And in 2020, Google stated that they’ll lean heavier still into performance as a ranking factor with the inclusion of Core Web Vitals within their existing search signals. This change rolls out in May 2021.
How quickly your site loads can’t be disregarded. With headless WordPress, you have access to tools that enable your business to serve a performant web experience to your customers.
You like fast websites, your customers like fast websites and Google likes fast websites. So why not build one?
Headless WordPress Can Save You Time
Taking the headless WordPress route can save your business lots of time.
Many businesses work with digital marketing agencies that use WordPress as their CMS of choice. Headless WordPress is, for the most part, the same as traditional WordPress from a content creators’ point of view. A well-implemented headless WordPress back-end is just as usable, if not more usable (by removing unneeded admin tabs) than the traditional WordPress back-end.
You can continue to play out your content marketing strategy without interruption when migrating to headless WordPress, from traditional WordPress, too. Because a new front-end can be built from your content in the background while your existing site stays live. Then, when your headless WordPress build is ready, you can switch the sites over. This prevents marketing downtime should you have campaigns in the works. Forward-thinking marketing agencies will love suggestions to go headless; because it makes their jobs—of getting you discovered and helping you stand out—easier!
When you don’t want to start from scratch, headless WordPress can save you time. While not all plugins are equal, there are some stalwarts that provide essential functionality. Yoast SEO, for example, can be used seamlessly with a headless WordPress setup to help businesses control how their content appears in the search engine ranking pages. Having access to effective pre-built functionality prevents your developers from having to reinvent the wheel. This reduces the time it takes to launch your website.
There’s a data distribution advantage to headless WordPress too. Some businesses prefer to serve separate applications to users on mobile devices. Using WordPress as a central source of content, you can send new pages to your desktop website, your iOS application and your Android application at the same time. You can leverage this capability to send out content to websites other than your own too (providing you grant the 3rd-party website access). This means businesses no longer have to update multiple websites and apps to get new content live.
The business has three arms to its operations; the central group, a dedicated racing branch and a portion centred on their famous stallions, with each arm needing its own website. Run The Show created a headless WordPress multisite allowing Juddmonte to manage content effectively on a per-site basis. Alongside this, a Next.js front-end was built to present each website’s content in a uniform manner. Juddmonte now has three live sites using the same core codebase, saving time when further development is required (as all sites within the framework, new and old, get the same functionality) and when new sites need spinning up (due to continuous integration and deployment processes).
If you have international divisions of your business who want separate sites, would like to set up language variations of your site or want to use WooCommerce to serve stores with different currencies, the modular mentality that the headless WordPress approach adopts can save your business time too. Headless WordPress is an efficient way to develop flexible websites and applications to aid your business’s long-term digital marketing strategy.
Headless WordPress Can Help You Stand Out
While WordPress is a great CMS, it can be hard to stand out using it. 40% of the entire web is powered by WordPress, and much of the time, the same popular themes are used. How many multi-purpose ThemeForest themes are being used in your competition circle? If the only initial distinction between your website and your competitors’ is the logo top left, how will you differentiate your business when customers are window shopping?
There’s certainly a use case for low-cost off-the-shelf themes when budgets are tight. However, when you’re looking to build brand equity, it’s best to go custom. Better still, it’s best to go different. Choosing headless WordPress for your business website can give it a USP.
Alongside the user-facing performance benefits—that your customers will love—a headless WordPress website is an opportunity to stand out. The component-based nature of React (one framework used to build headless WordPress front-ends) encourages custom design systems, with companies like Airbnb, Uber and IBM increasing the pace of innovation within their teams by adopting this philosophy. A unique design system is not only efficient internally, but a smart way to gain recognition externally too. It’s hard to do that when your website—as is often described in user testing—”looks like a theme that I’ve seen before”.
Building a detached front-end for your WordPress website opens you up to the React (or Vue, should you prefer that route) ecosystem. This way, if you’d like to stand out with animation, interactivity, charts or tables, you have more options available to you and more tools at your disposal.
Moreover, with the Jamstack approach being a comparatively new way to build websites over the monolithic WordPress approach, there’s a good chance early adopters will be championed in the wider market. Leading to exposure as a byproduct of your progressiveness.
Headless WordPress Can Help You Rank Higher On Google
WordPress has a reputation for being SEO friendly. It’s true that WordPress allows search-focused business owners to do many things right. But what about headless WordPress?
Now, you no longer have to develop search invisible SPAs to use the headless approach. You can create SSG (static generated) websites and SSR (server-side rendered) websites that can be crawled by Googlebot in the same way as a traditional page.
Headless WordPress gives you, and/or your development team, greater control of your code. This allows you to take advantage of programmatic SEO; a system of generating many highly targeted landing pages to gain greater organic SEO traffic to your website. Semi-automatically. Companies like TUI use this tactic to rank on Google for terms like “Tenerife weather” by presenting a page of average monthly temperatures followed by an offer for a holiday. They then repeat this across 10s of destinations.
Page speed helps your Google rank too. As previously described, the faster your website is, the higher Google will consider it for ranking purposes. Because you decouple the front-end of your website from its back-end when using headless WordPress, you’re free to use high-performance frameworks like Next.js. High-performance frameworks that your competitors might not be using yet.
In 2021, SEO capabilities must be high on the list of requirements of business owners when making technology choices. Each place gained in the SERPs (search engine results pages) can make a serious difference to revenue.
Headless WordPress Can Keep Your Website Safe
The biggest downside of WordPress being so popular is that hackers know your website is likely to be WordPress. This means they can orchestrate attacks on a large number of sites efficiently. Good for them, bad for business owners. How? Because the underlying core code of your website is the same as everyone else’s.
When you use WordPress in a traditional sense, it’s obvious to anyone with half an idea of what to look for that the admin area of your website is WordPress based. The process can in fact be automated by hackers using bots when the public-facing portion of your website is hosted in the same place as your admin area. And this can be problematic. Someone with malicious intent who gains access to your site could change the content of your pages, delete users or worse, commit fraud under your business’ eCommerce brand.
It’s important to secure all WordPress sites with relevant measures. There are effective security plugins that I recommend installing on any WordPress site. But my primary security recommendation is to hide WordPress from view.
From a safety perspective, the major advantage of headless WordPress over traditional WordPress is that it’s not so obvious that you’re using it. And if it can be guessed, it’s hard for hackers to know where your WordPress install is hosted. You may wish to host WordPress locally on a machine that’s not always connected to the internet, making it completely inaccessible, for example.
If people can’t find your WordPress install, they can’t attempt to hack it.
A static headless WordPress front-end sources data from its relevant back-end at build time. This means the link between back-end updates and front-end updates can come with an intentional delay, thus introducing an optional layer of approval for what goes live and when. This is useful when someone who shouldn’t make changes in your admin area, makes changes in your admin area. Because the differences won’t be made public until you rebuild the front-end of your site through a separate log-in. Headless WordPress provides additional protection in this scenario.
Furthermore, generating sites this way comes with roll-back advantages. For example, a headless WordPress front-end, version-controlled in GitHub and linked to Vercel for deployment, allows internal errors and external attacks to be rectified quickly. Before either issue causes any potentially irreparable damage.
If you’re running a serious business, you can’t afford for your website to be erroneous, or worse, down. With best practices in place, the headless WordPress approach can provide you with the peace of mind that this won’t happen.
Headless WordPress Can Help You Combine Data Sources & Services
When you separate the back-end and front-end of your WordPress website, you open yourself up to a wider ecosystem of tools that can benefit your business.
The connection between your content and your audience is more important than ever. And savvy businesses want to deliver new content to their users through their websites as quickly as possible.
It’s not a question of whether a business has a content management system or not for their website anymore. It’s which one, or ones, they choose.
This has lead to the rise of multi-CMS usage, especially across enterprise businesses. Research conducted by Vanson Bourne for WP Engine in 2019 found that 60% of companies surveyed were using multiple-CMSs. In addition, WordPress was a mainstay, with 88% of respondents embracing it within their multi-CMS approach.
88% of respondents whose organizations are already embracing a multi-CMS approach highlight WordPress as part of that mix.
What could the multi-CMS approach look like?
Let’s say you’re an eCommerce business. You may like WordPress for content management, however, you prefer Shopify for selling your products over WooCommerce—the typical WordPress eCommerce solution.
Although building headless WooCommerce websites is possible—and this can satisfy the needs of many businesses—prior decisions and preferences can require wiggle room. Headless WordPress allows this. Because you can easily sell products with Shopify and serve page or blog content from WordPress within one website. You could even bring in additional data from another source to complement the two CMSs.
The multi-CMS approach is becoming popular with businesses looking to leverage the best tools for particular jobs. And for website content, WordPress is the front runner.
Headless WordPress Can Help You Handle Traffic Spikes
A headless WordPress site hosted in a cloud environment can help your business absorb, and fully benefit from, the effects of viral content.
It’s not uncommon for traditional WordPress sites to live on shared hosting packages. These services, while fine for the most part, can come crashing down during a traffic spike. This happens when more users want to view a popular blog post, for example, than the server your site is hosted on can handle.
The downside for businesses is two-fold. Not only does your website become inaccessible, but you can’t properly capitalise on the hype your content is creating.
Conversely, headless WordPress can help you eliminate this issue two-fold. Firstly, by producing a static version of your website that can be produced once and served over and over again, rather than generating pages on each visit (think of having to rewrite a page of a book verbatim each time someone wanted to read it). And secondly, through the ability to host your front-end on a scalable cloud platform like Vercel or Netlify, where resources shift based on demand.
Headless WordPress Can Help Your Engineering Team
There are benefits beyond those the end-user sees too. If you’re a business with its own engineers, or a business utilising external technical help, headless WordPress is a developer-friendly route forward.
The Jamstack is changing the way we think about workflow. When we break away from all-in-one architecture (like traditional WordPress), we can separate concerns. This means front-end developers can focus on the front-end and back-end developers can focus on the back-end, allowing engineers to focus on what they’re best at, leading to faster development amongst teams.
When you let people do what they’re best at and what they most enjoy, they tend to thrive. This can enable businesses that choose headless WordPress for their websites and applications to attract top talent.
Indeed, WordPress has stood the test of time and has an important place in the world of web development moving forward. But engineers have a tendency to want to try new things. I can attest to this personally. And there’s good reason for this curiosity because new technologies are often more potent.
Ultimately, when you help your developers by allowing them to do their jobs more efficiently, you can reduce costs in the long run for your business. Whether engaging in ongoing maintenance, introducing new features or launching new websites.
Headless WordPress is an engineering team’s friend.
Headless WordPress Is Growing And You Can Grow With It
By now, I’ve established that while the web is going headless, WordPress isn’t going anywhere. I’ve also touched on the growth of headless WordPress as a solution so far. I can’t see this slowing down.
WordPress usage continues to grow year on year, and Next.js is being adopted by well-known brands across all industries. At Run The Show, WordPress + Next.js is the default combination used on the websites we build for our clients.
Alongside the growth of all pieces of the headless WordPress puzzle, investment is being pumped in too. With companies like WP Engine and Gatsby investing in headless WordPress’ advancement and companies like Strattic raising money for a similar end.
These companies are backing headless WordPress by putting their skin in the game, as I did in March 2021 by launching a headless WordPress agency. These commitments and overall championing of the technology can only lead to better results for the end businesses that use it. As the growth of WordPress helped the businesses that use it historically, I believe the growth of headless WordPress will go the same way.
Your business can benefit from headless WordPress now and in the future. There’s clear immediate support for the technology. Plus, through the early stages of mass adoption—which I believe we’re on the cusp of—better tools for businesses will become available as demand drives innovation.
All this activity gives you confidence that this is the way the curve is forming. And if your business adopts headless WordPress today, you’ll have a chance to get ahead of it.
You can future proof your digital approach with headless WordPress.
What are the downsides?
Because no tech decisions are without downsides, let’s look at the other side of the coin.
Headless WordPress can require additional engineering support to make plugins work. It’s not as simple as picking a plugin from the directory and assuming its functionality will work across your site. Consultation with your developers may be needed.
Fortunately, popular plugins—that provide platform-leading out-of-the-box functionality—like Yoast SEO, WooCommerce and Gravity Forms have API routes, that you can use with headless WordPress, built-in.
Your business also needs to be comfortable operating at the bleeding edge of technology. Things are moving fast and tools are improving all the time. If you want to push past your competitors, you may need to invest in the ongoing development of your website or application.
So how does this look in practice? Instead of a one-off fee for your WordPress website and leaving it there, you may wish to retain the services of a headless WordPress consultant due to the specialist nature of your setup. This typically comes with an optional monthly investment for further advice and implementation work.
With this being understood, if your website is an essential part of your business operation, it’s never finished. There are always improvements to be made whatever technology choices you make.
What businesses can benefit from headless WordPress?
Any business looking to get ahead online can benefit from headless WordPress. This includes:
- eCommerce businesses
- Enterprise businesses
- Media companies
What type of business websites can you build on headless WordPress?
You can build many types of website and application using headless WordPress. In terms of design, UX/UI and animation, the only limit is your imagination:
- Brochure websites
- Marketing websites
- eCommerce websites
- One-page websites
- Web apps
- Native apps (iOS/Android)
- Documentation websites
The business case for headless WordPress is compelling. While it’s not the be-all and end-all solution to every caveat of traditional WordPress on every WordPress project, it goes a long way to fixing many pain points.
WordPress is an incredible tool for solving digital problems. It’s been solving them for businesses, marketers and web developers since 2003. With the technology available in 2021, we can use headless WordPress to solve new digital problems too.
At Run The Show, we want to bring the benefits of headless WordPress to everyone. If you’re interested in discussing how headless WordPress can help your business, irrespective of its size, you can get in touch here.