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WordPress as a headless CMS? Read this first

Kaya Ismail

WordPress is arguably the most popular content management system in the world. According to W3Techs, the platform powers 43% of all websites on the web. For small websites, WordPress provides an ideal blogging platform and an easy way to launch websites.

In a world where the number of digital channels is on the rise, many businesses are turning to a headless CMS to help them deliver content to various channels beyond the standard website. Given WordPress’s capabilities as a CMS, some will even consider the headless WordPress version of the legacy platform, hoping that it will meet their needs. However, WordPress raises more questions than answers for medium and enterprise-grade companies searching for a headless CMS solution.

In this article, we’ll explain why using WordPress as a headless CMS isn’t the remedy you’re looking for and why it can lead to more headaches for your business.

Section titled 1. You need to abide by WordPress' content structure

WordPress has a user-friendly interface that most content editors love. It’s what makes it such a popular blogging platform and why many large companies still use it to launch their websites. However, when it comes to taking a headless approach and creating content for and delivering it to multiple channels, WordPress’s templating structure can be challenging.

WordPress is very opinionated when it comes to how you structure your content in the backend. By leveraging themes, WordPress helps simplify site design. However, these themes are a collection of template files that are used to display content. Content is made available as HTML and relies on a predefined document structure. This approach isn’t ideal for omnichannel scenarios and can make it difficult for developers to create the interfaces for different channels as well as for marketers to edit the content for those channels.

Section titled 2. Plugin pains

Plugins are essential elements for any WordPress website as they enable users to add new features and extend WordPress functionality. In fact, WordPress is, by nature, highly distributed in terms of its functionality. The problem with this is that you’ll likely need to install a dozen plugins to build the functionality that a SaaS headless CMS gives you out of the box.

In addition, each new plugin is a new potential point of failure, especially when WordPress or your theme gets an update. The problem with this is that you need to rely on multiple plugin developers to keep their software up to date and secure, which usually doesn’t happen. As a result, you can run into a scenario where not only is it time to upgrade your website, but you’ve lost some functionality, but then hackers can exploit vulnerabilities in these outdated plugins.

Section titled 3. Security concerns

For medium to large-sized enterprises, security is one of their greatest concerns. However, WordPress doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to security. As recently as January 2022, hackers planted malicious code in the backdoor of some WordPress plugins and templates. These hackers were able to gain control over websites that used the 40 themes and 53 plugins belonging to AccessPress Themes. How many sites do you ask? At least 360,000.

In order to deal with these security issues, enterprises need to maintain high developer headcounts on their teams as well as invest in other additional security measures to keep their sensitive data secure. Aside from the apparent threat to personally identifiable information and customer data that data breaches pose, companies also risk damaging their brand if the breach is severe enough.

Section titled 4. Maintenance headaches

Another drawback of WordPress is that it is notoriously high maintenance. This doesn’t change with headless WordPress either, as your developer team will need not only to handle theme and plugin updates but they’ll also have to cope with issues such as spam.

When forced to deal with these issues, particularly on the primary website, developers don’t have the necessary bandwidth to create digital experiences on other channels. They can also not work on revenue-generating tasks and new projects since they spend so much time maintaining WordPress. The technical debt accrued while managing WordPress themes and plugins can be pretty extensive.

These maintenance challenges extend to hosting WordPress. It typically needs to be locally installed, which means that companies have to rely on on-premises servers and can’t leverage the cloud as they do for other applications.

Section titled 5. Content relationships are hard

Even though headless WordPress allows you to create and deliver content to different channels, managing that content can be complex. Content relationships in WordPress are hard because WordPress was built to be a blogging platform, something that it does well. However, if you want to display more than just text, images, and video content like you would on a website, it can be a pain for your developers to implement.

Since WordPress was created for blogging, populating environments with complex content types and relationships such as a customer portal or a single page application will prove difficult. For enterprises that need to effectively manage their content on channels such as these on top of mobile applications, tablets, and more, WordPress can leave them hanging.

Section titled 6. Enterprises can struggle

Ultimately, the greatest problem with headless WordPress that large businesses will face is that WordPress isn’t really enterprise-ready. Enterprise businesses tend to have hundreds or thousands of employees, and scalability is crucial in meeting the demands of everyone in the business and their customers.

WordPress is hard to scale internally and externally, and collaboration can be difficult. WordPress wasn’t created to handle the modern workflows that marketers and developers need when managing multiple channels. On top of this, even though headless WordPress offers APIs, WordPress prefers to use its own plugins and extensions that are custom-created for that platform. As a result, it can be tough to integrate with other software platforms that enterprises may need, such as analytics, advanced personalization, and marketing automation tools.

Section titled Start the migration to an enterprise-grade headless CMS today

Enterprises currently using WordPress may have already fallen victim to some of these drawbacks and may think that shifting to headless WordPress might give them the edge. In the early stages, it can make the migration process easier, but ultimately, a headless CMS built to be a headless CMS and doesn’t simply have APIs tacked onto it is a much better choice.

Storyblok provides a headless CMS solution that can satisfy enterprises’ needs better than headless WordPress. While WordPress has several limitations that might restrict enterprises as they try to maximize the benefits of headless architecture, Storyblok enables marketers and developers to deliver dynamic content experiences. Here are just a few of the features that surpass WordPress’ capabilities:

GraphQL: Storyblok offers GraphQL in addition to its REST API so that you can take advantage of automated documentation and strongly typed responses.

Content authoring and governance: Storyblok makes it easy to orchestrate content and publish it anywhere, without restrictions. It includes a component-based approach and nestable content blocks that enable marketers to define a content structure for various channels. Your marketers, content editors, developers, and designers can easily collaborate by taking advantage of Storyblok’s content governance tools such as scheduling, pipelines, workflows, and custom roles.

API-first architecture: With an API-first architecture, it’s easy to connect to various software tools and not have to worry about WordPress plugin pains.

Enterprise-grade security: Storyblok is built with the latest security and compliance protocols and also offers roles and permissions for easier access control.

If you’re ready to leave WordPress behind and migrate to a modern headless platform, then see our article How to migrate from WordPress to a headless CMS.