WordPress vs. Headless CMS:
What marketers should know

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    Storyblok is the first headless CMS that works for developers & marketers alike.

    WordPress, who holds a market share of over 39% of all websites, has been voted the most dreaded platform to work with by developers in 2019 and 2020. While it is loved by marketers for its great visual editing tools and user-friendly page-building functionality, developers don’t seem to share that love as much. But why is WordPress causing such a vast divide between marketers and developers? And are there any alternatives that can make both user groups happy?

    As part of our OMR Digital Masterclass, Storyblok’s VP of Marketing, Thomas Peham, and I looked at the roots for these strong contradictions and shared our experiences as content marketers switching from a monolithic set-up to a fully headless content management system.

    A screenshot of the OMR digital masterclass

    "Loved. Dreaded. Wanted."
    WordPress has been voted the most dreaded platform to work with by developers.

    Just like our presentation, this written recap needs to be prefaced by the following disclaimer: we are not WordPress bashing in any way and the gathered insights apply to the majority of monolithic content management systems. For personal projects or small businesses with a low digital maturity level, sticking with a system like WordPress proves to be quite efficient (here we are, of course, strictly talking about the monolithic use of WordPress). However, if any of the following problems resonate with your experience in working with a monolithic set-up, it is probably time re-evaluate your current choice:

    • Your marketing team is highly dependent on your developers, requiring their assistance even for tiny changes.
    • Current page loading times are slower than the competition, but nobody in your team dares to touch or even change the current template in order to improve them.
    • Releasing a new landing page takes way longer than it should
    • Small changes in copy can cause glitches in your website layout
    • You have lost control of your plug-ins and updates
    An illustration showing how WordPress plug-ins can easily turn into chaos.

    "How it started" vs. "How it's going"
    Keeping up with your WordPress plug-in-hell can certainly prove a challenge.

    Your decision between a monolithic and a headless set-up shouldn’t be purely tech-based. Especially in terms of content and content marketing, there are many aspects to consider that your CMS will have a direct impact on.

    Headless content marketing

    Let’s start on a positive note. A report carried out by Semrush in 2020 found that the number of businesses lacking a content marketing strategy is rapidly decreasing. Content marketing is thus becoming increasingly important, as only 16% stated that they don’t have a strategy set in place yet. In the previous year, that percentage was still at 23%; a decrease to be happy about indeed! On the flip side, we can see that the majority of these businesses are seeing little to no success with their implemented content marketing strategy, as found by Hubspot. So while businesses certainly see the importance of content marketing, their strategies seem to fail. But why?

    CMSwire explored the state of digital customer experience in 2021 and took a closer look at the top digital customer experience challenges, by asking a set of 400+ executives to identify them.

    1. Limited budget/resources
    2. Siloed systems and fragmented customer data
    3. Limited cross-department alignment/collaboration
    4. Outdated/Limited technology, operations, or processes
    5. Lack of in-house expertise/skills

    Something immediately stands out when looking at this list. The first and last points are directly connected to your budget. So if you have enough resources in place, these two are not too concerning .

    However, there is something else that connects the other 3 points (2, 3, 4):

    They all point directly to the way a company’s content management system is set-up.

    To explain this further, let’s just travel back a couple of decades and look at the traditional CMS approach.

    Challenging your monolithic boundaries

    Traditional CMSs are also commonly referred to as monolithic, meaning that the front- and back-end are pretty much married to one another and your content is closely tied to your code – until death do them part. WordPress, to stick with our example from the beginning, falls under the category of a monolithic content management system. Using WordPress can therefore work just fine, if you only need it to manage a website with little to no dynamic content. At the time WordPress was founded, websites were the only form of medium available to display our content online. But now, in 2021, our situation looks a little different.

    Mobile apps and devices are becoming increasingly important, with 50% of all web traffic now coming from mobile devices. But, if an eCommerce business, for example, wants to push the same content on a WordPress site to a mobile app as well, that content has to be entered twice, causing content silos and the risk of fragmentation.

    This effort is, of course, also time-consuming and prone to errors, which in turn can have a direct impact on sales. And since today 25% of all purchases are made on mobile devices, one should think twice before deciding if this is a risk they are willing to take.

    Mobile devices are all well and good, but the future of technology is already way ahead of them! As part of a Google Consumer Survey, 66% of respondents showed interest in using augmented reality when making purchase decisions. Shopify has also found that products which allow interactions with VR or 3D content achieve a conversion that is up to 94% higher compared to products without these interactions. If an eCommerce business, using WordPress, now decides to also implement AR or VR into its storefront, in addition to a mobile app, how does it then continue to manage its content? In a third, siloed system? Questionable.

    Different silos feeding content to different devices, such as laptops, phones, smartwatches, and AR headsets.

    Multiple silos feeding content to different platforms

    We can clearly see that having multiple silos is a huge problem on its own, and should be avoided at all costs. Additionally, it can also result in a long list of extra issues, such as:

    • Barriers in the customer journey
    • Duplicate & out-to-date content
    • Personalization difficulties
    • Increased chances of security breaches
    • Quality standards & content guidelines are more difficult to adhere to
    • Slow processes
    • Limited cross-team-collaboration

    The last problem, in itself, is one of the three issues introduced in “The State of Content Marketing” report, and is pretty much a direct result of having to deal with so many silos. Usually, one person will be responsible for one particular channel. If all these editors then also work in completely different systems, their collaboration is certainly not being facilitated in any way. This argument is also supported by the Harvard Business Review, which has found that 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional and that collaboration has definitely become an issue.

    We also need to address outdated/limited technology, operations, or processes. These issues are directly related to the fact that monolithic systems tend to encourage an all-in-one approach rather than the more flexible building your own technology stack (best-of-breed).

    Our colleague Siavash has already written on this, but we can summarize that an all-in-one approach will definitely be a barrier when it comes to choosing an emerging new technology/tool. Choosing a best-of-breed approach instead, ensures that the use of the right tools for the right application is solely in your power.

    An illustration showing the difference between a best-of-breed stack versus an all-in-one suite.

    Best-of-breed and all-in-one solutions offer different possibilities for different situations

    These issues are definitely a lot to have on your plate if you’re trying to drive your business forward into an omnichannel approach. But thankfully, the CMS industry itself fixed this issue by going straight to the heart of the problem.

    A headless response

    In 2014, as the number of search requests for WordPress seemed to have decreased, a new term spiked up and served as the solution to the monolithic problem. Enter: headless CMS.

    The headless approach is quite a technical concept, but has still proven to be very useful to marketers facing these issues. Headless means that the “head” (frontend) and “body” (backend) are separated, very much in contrast to the previously mentioned “monolithic marriage”.


    Check out our CEO Dominik Angerer’s explanation of a headless CMS in five short minutes.

    By going headless, you can manage your content in one central system and push it to as many channels (app, AR/VR, social media, CRM) as you wish, all through APIs. This means not having to deal with multiple silos anymore. Everyone works with the same central content hub now. Therefore, you avoid duplicate content and help your team to collaborate by working within the same tool.

    Finding the perfect CMS for your business needs

    After delving into the key challenges in content marketing that stem from a monolithic set-up and exploring the benefits of a headless CMS, we however still acknowledge that going headless is not for everyone.

    If you use your website more as an online business card and have no need for dynamic multi-channel content, going forward with using WordPress, Drupal, etc. will work just fine.

    However, if you are facing issues with content silos, dysfunctional collaboration and outdated technology while also trying to propel your business forward, the headless approach might just be the right one for you.

    Check out how companies like UPC business, Swedish fashion label Stronger or Education First have fixed their issues concerning page speed, website traffic and go-to-market time by implementing Storyblok as their CMS.