For developers and programmers, keeping up with the ever-expanding digital content channels can be a challenge. Having to repackage content from a traditional WordPress implementation for never-ending, ever-changing client-side endpoints, like watches or smart speakers, puts a massive strain on your resources.

So, now more than ever do you need to understand the concept of a headless Content Management System (CMS). The headless approach can sound a bit complicated, but basically, it focuses on the back-end of content management so that you can pull from the same content bucket for several different outputs.

It is 2021, and WordPress is continuing to grow, and right now represents almost half of all websites on the internet. So, it only makes sense that WordPress can also function as a headless CMS solution.

What Is a Headless CMS?

Headless content management is by no means a new concept, but it is one that some struggle to grasp. Before the sleek and accessible interface in WordPress we know and love, there were content databases with unattractive front-end delivery systems. Back then, queries and codes were used to extract content for the user.

In our multi-device world, the headless approach is becoming increasingly valuable. Headless content management essentially means that the system exists solely for content input, containment, editing, and sorting on the back-end. Thus, a headless system should not worry about front-end visual impact but should be highly accessible.

Now you may be wondering how content in a headless system makes its way into the world. Content in the database can be viewed where ever it is called to without templates or plugins since the content is accessed through RESTful API calls.

Headless WordPress

WordPress is commonly referred to as a “monolithic” CMS, meaning that it is still built with front-end display in mind, although it has a robust back-end for content organization and creation. Additionally, WordPress wraps display functionality into the different themes and plugins, making the front- and back-ends connected.

So, what you’re saying is that it isn’t headless? Yes, but you can, however, take advantage of WordPress’ content management functionality and chop off its head to create a headless CMS. WordPress’ REST API extends the content management you’ve created beyond your theme.

If you were to do this, you would still have access to the platform’s back-end functionality, but it would become a reactive system. Content would wait until it is called upon and react accordingly, unlike the current, more proactive way WordPress delivers content to browser-based sites.

Decoupled vs. Headless

Do you love your theme and how it looks online? You usually can’t have your cake and eat it too, but with WordPress, you can. Creating a decoupled CMS using WordPress allows you to get the best of both worlds.

When you decouple your CMS, you are left with more of an illusion. Your content database will be able to present a traditional display to the front-end, and you can use API calls from a variety of devices to access your content. This is more appealing than headless, where you lose the traditional front-end display option.

There are WordPress plugins available to make it possible to uncouple your WordPress front-end and back-end, but you have to be prepared for what that means. Decoupling can give you a more hands-on approach to security, website maintenance, and SEO. Additionally, you will lose the live preview you are used to with a coupled structure.

What To Do with a Headless CMS?

Probably the most valuable thing you can do with a headless CMS is future-proof content. If the API endpoints still exist, content can be called forward. A headless CMS allows you to create a developer-focused API-first system instead of focusing on how back-end functions will feed front-end design.

Going headless greatly improves flexibility in migrating content if necessary. In addition, you can also create more personalized customer journeys, which is appealing from a marketer’s standpoint.

If you want to be able to deliver content to Android and iOS platforms from the same back-end, headless is a great option. Headless structures are also useful for websites and apps that use JavaScript frameworks like Angular or React.

Benefits of Headless WordPress

We’ve discussed some benefits of headless WordPress architecture, but let’s discuss a couple more.

– Greater Control: From a developmental standpoint, uncoupling WordPress allows you to gain endless control. Front-end developers can use their creativity to deliver an “outside the template” experience.

– Increased Scalability: A headless system can be scaled up very quickly. You are able to continue building your content. Being an API-first shop also allows you to respond to new user needs in the blink of an eye.

– Tighter Security: Since your content lives separate from your front-end delivery with headless and decoupled approaches, your content is not as exposed and at risk to third-party application issues. This minimizes risk to your content.  

– Lightweight Design: Going headless allows you to shed some serious weight. Your system now just consists of a content database and API calls, making your content delivery sleek, responsive, and speedy.

Potential Issues with headless WordPress

Before you jump to a headless CMS, you need to know some potential issues associated with turning your WordPress into a decoupled or headless state.

– No WYSIWYG Editor: When you go with a headless approach, you will lose the live preview option. Without this feature, you won’t be able to test what front-end users will see easily.

– Advanced Programming: If you didn’t need a front-end programmer before, you will now. More advanced libraries will be required to make the most out of a headless system.

– Increased Maintenance: Even more so with a decoupled set-up, you will end up with two systems to maintain, especially with updates and security.

– Tougher Credentialing: Headless systems require different credentialing of users than a coupled CMS. It is a tedious task but does lead to a more secure environment.

Transitioning to a headless CMS can open up many doors for your content but doesn’t eliminate the need for reliable hosting. At New Target, we are web design and hosting experts. Our WordPress design and development team delivers our clients WordPress websites that meet all their advanced content editing and publishing needs with rich functionality. Contact us today!

With offices in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, Ca., New Target provides digital strategy, digital marketing, web design, web development, branding, website hosting, and creative services for prominent nonprofits, companies, and government.