WordPress vs Headless CMS

Today we are looking at an important “battle” of technologies, that between WordPress vs Headless CMS. You see, in the beginning, websites consisted of simple, static, HTML-based pages. Editing or adding content was a nightmare – impossible, actually, if you had no technical knowledge. But as technology evolved, web browsers and websites, in general, became better and more complex. In 1993, the Mosaic browser started supporting images thus adding a bit of color to a – until then – plain webpage. 


Soon after, Internet Explorer came out and changed everything. Internet Explorer marked the beginning of a new era because it was the first-ever browser that supported CSS. From there on, it was a snowball effect. Web pages became more dynamic and interactive. More and more browsers and services became available. And then, Content Management Systems hit the market and took the world by storm.


What are Content Management Systems 

A content management system, as the name suggests, is a software or program that allows users to create entire websites without coding. There are hundreds of examples of content management systems today, including WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla


Content management systems work based on themes or pre-built packages of functionality and UI. Usually, the backend is written in PHP while the frontend is a combination of HTML, CSS, and vanilla JavaScript. Admins maintain the site via a user-friendly admin panel, from which they add or remove pages, content, and so on. Also, most of these systems are free, open-source content management systems. So in general, CMSs have a huge community of contributors behind them, constantly adding new features and themes. 


What are content management systems
Source: kinsta.com


For these reasons, content management systems are incredibly popular and powerful tools. Companies, big or small, have access to affordable technologies that allow them to build professional websites with exceptional user experience. Not to mention that CMSs are extremely customizable, so the possibilities are endless. But for now, let’s focus on the most renowned CMS, WordPress.


What is WordPress

WordPress is one of the best content management systems available today. Since it was created in 2003, WordPress has evolved into an amazing tool. Currently, WordPress is divided into two branches – the free version and the paid version. The free version, wordpress.org allows companies to build their own WordPress websites and host them on their own private servers. The technology is free but requires a bit of technical knowledge.


The paid version, wordpress.com, caters mostly to small businesses and personal websites. WordPress hosts these websites on their own servers, and depending on each package they also offer maintenance and online support. This option is perfect for beginners and completely non-technical people and WordPress provides tons of quick and easy tutorials to get you started.


Examples of content management systems
Source: wpbeginner.com


Moreover, both versions come with over 7.500 themes and thousands of plugins, most of which are at least partially free. With the help of these “derivatives” – as WordPress calls them – people can build any type of site from a small, personal blog, to portfolios, e-commerce sites, and more. The number of available tools WordPress provides, combined with the simplicity and ease of use behind its admin panel made this specific CMS the most popular system of its kind. So much so that WordPress powers almost 40% of the websites available on the world wide web today. 


WordPress Pros and Cons

WordPress’s biggest advantage is the impressive amount of free addons within its libraries. More precisely, the time and resources they save building a website. Creating any kind of platform without a CMS is expensive and time-consuming. Depending on the size of the platform, developing it requires a fair bit of resources, including a designer and/or frontend developers, as well as a backend developer. It also requires database design – the architecture of a database for it to properly store data. All in all, it’s costly and it’s tedious. WordPress does all of that for its users.  


The themes are prebuilt user interfaces with already defined CSS classes, color pallets, layouts, and everything else. Then, the plugins follow these design rules so they match the rest of the website. And the administrator of a WordPress website doesn’t need to do anything but install the theme.


On the other hand, WordPress is a bit fragile. Simply put, it requires constant maintenance otherwise plugins and even the theme will depreciate and stop working. There is also the issue of plugin conflicts with other plugins or the theme itself. In other words, while coding is not a part of it, WordPress still requires a bit of technical savvy. 


Finally, the biggest con of WordPress – as well as most of the CMSs out there – is security. Since the themes and plugins are created and maintained by the community, some of them are not as secure. And by installing them onto your WordPress site, you open a gate for potential harm. 

Another disadvantage of WordPress is the lack of control over the frontend. Simply put, WordPress requires a theme. The theme is built with CSS, HTML, and pure JavaScript, limiting the choices for developers and companies who may want more. However, a recent technology called Headless CMS is bringing a solution to this limitation.


What is a Headless CMS

Traditional content management systems like WordPress consist of four parts – the database, the admin panel, an integration for reading and writing, and the actual frontend. A Headless CMS consists of only three of the four – the database, admin panel, and the reading/writing integrations.


Wordpress vs Headless CMS
Traditional CMS architecture vs Headless CMS architecture


By definition, the frontend – or head of the website – is removed, hence “headless”. Instead, Headless CMSs work without the “View Layer” part. So, developers building a headless CMS have the freedom of choice between any frontend technology they are familiar with. Today, there are dozens of Headless CMSs available, each of them unique and amazing in their own way.


Headless CMS Pros and Cons

The first and obvious pro is the freedom of choosing the right frontend technology for each project – this also means that Headless CMSs are cross-platform. However, this is also a considerable drawback, since it limits access for non-technical people. In other words, you still need a frontend or design. So if you don’t have a frontend developer, Headless CMS is not for you.


Another huge advantage is the way Headless CMSs work, which we also discussed in our article about JAMStack, Static Websites, and Headless CMS. Basically, there are two types of Headless CMSs – API driven and GIT driven. The API driven Headless CMSs are scalable and fast. However, since they rely heavily on external APIs it can be both messy and costly. 


On the other hand, GIT-driven Headless CMSs re-deploy any and every change in your Git repository. This ensures a smooth development experience, keeps track of all of your changes, ensures you always have backups and all of Gits wonderful benefits. However, if you want a cross-platform Headless CMSs, things may get complicated, fast.



Finally, and probably the biggest advantage of Headless CMSs is that it doesn’t rely on plugins. This means that there are no security risks involved in building a Headless CMS that might be caused by these party services. On the other hand, this also means that developers need to build all of the functionality from the ground up. 



Both WordPress and Headless CMSs have their advantages and disadvantages. And, like with any other technology, there is a place and time where each of them proves more useful than the other. From what we’ve learned today, WordPress is a fast, scalable, and affordable solution. It also requires little to no technical knowledge. But it limits the choice of technology, it is not cross-platform. 


On the other hand, Headless CMSs are fast, secure, and cross-platform. But because of the way they work, this type of CMS requires development knowledge for design, frontend, and backend. This means that a Headless CMS website can get quite expensive.



At the end of the day, it’s not a battle between WordPress vs  Headless CMS. It actually comes down to the project’s requirements, budget, and deadline. Both technologies are amazing and they can create anything you dream of. However, both of them have their own respective drawbacks. That said, we hope this article helps you consider both the pros and cons of each, and make the best decision for your project.

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