Headless WordPress is a good option for building modern websites. If you’ve never heard of headless CMS (Content Management Systems), the concept might be difficult to grasp initially. That’s why I’ve written this article. Here, you’ll learn all about Headless WordPress. Specifically, we’ll discuss these topics:
- What is Headless WordPress?
- Advantages of Headless WordPress
- Disadvantages of Headless WordPress
- How to Use Headless WordPress?
- Headless WordPress Best Practices
What is Headless WordPress?
Websites typically consist of two parts.
- Frontend: The area that website visitors see.
- Backend: The management interface, which in WordPress is the admin dashboard.
With “Headless WordPress,” the frontend, or the “head” of the page, is separated from the backend, or the “body” of the website. WordPress then becomes only the management interface: where content is created, edited, and managed. The frontend operates independently. You can choose the technology you want to use for building it.
This is the charm of Headless WordPress: Data is transmitted from WordPress via an API (Application Programming Interface) and can be processed anywhere. Developers have complete freedom. They can use the data in complex technical solutions like websites or apps, while editors and content managers can continue using the well-designed WordPress management interface as usual.
Advantages of Headless WordPress
Now that you know what Headless WordPress is, let’s explore its advantages.
1. Enhanced Performance
With Headless WordPress, since the frontend is completely separated from the backend, you can achieve much better performance: faster loading times and an improved overall user experience. This, among other things, can lead to better search engine rankings.
2. Greater Control
With Headless WordPress, you have full control over your website’s appearance. A frontend developer can fully unleash their creativity with Headless WordPress - there are no limits to how you present your content.
3. Increased Scalability
Scaling WordPress websites properly can sometimes be challenging. With Headless WordPress, you can easily scale the frontend independently from the backend. Depending on your needs, you can use more powerful servers, integrate a CDN, optimize caching, generate static pages, and take other measures to scale the website and maintain strong performance even with high traffic.
4. Distributing Content Across Different Channels
Headless WordPress allows you to manage content in a central location. However, you can use this content in countless places: on a website, in an app, or within internal company systems. You can implement creative automations, such as automatically creating an Instagram post with artificial intelligence when a new post is added to the WordPress backend, and sending push notifications to users of your mobile app. Your creativity knows no bounds with Headless WordPress.
5. Enhanced Security
Separating the backend and frontend (the “decoupling”) makes the website more secure. Users who find your website won’t have direct access to the WordPress login interface. This makes automated brute-force attacks very unlikely. Additionally, by generating the website’s content statically using frameworks like Astro or Next.js, it can be ensured that the data is only used for rendering during the website’s build process. The actual live website has no connections to the WordPress backend, making it nearly impossible for hackers to discover the URL of the backend. Furthermore, backend server resources are conserved, leading to lower costs.
6. Reduced Error-Prone Nature
When content management is tightly integrated, it’s easy for editors and writers to get lost and accidentally disrupt the layout or WordPress settings. With Headless WordPress, this doesn’t happen: Developers take care of the layout, while editors only need to manage the content.
7. Smooth Transition
If your team is already accustomed to WordPress, transitioning to another system can be stressful and challenging for everyone involved. When you switch to Headless WordPress, this is not an issue: Data doesn’t need to be migrated, and your team doesn’t have to learn a new system.
You understand the benefits of Headless WordPress and want to implement your website using this approach?
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How to Use Headless WordPress?
As explained earlier, you need to use an API to fetch data from WordPress into your frontend. You have two main options for this:
- WordPress REST API - WordPress has its own REST API, which allows you to retrieve data from the backend (see WordPress Developer Documentation).
- WP GraphQL - WP GraphQL is a free open-source WordPress plugin that enables you to query data through a GraphQL interface.
I won’t go into great detail and explain the difference between “REST” and “GraphQL.” I just want to make sure you’ve heard of these two options. It’s best to consult with a developer to determine which one is best suited for your situation.
You don’t need to make many changes in the WordPress backend to use WordPress as a headless CMS. The major task is undoubtedly the frontend: You will likely need a web developer who can create a frontend. However, you can also learn to program a website yourself! I won’t delve into the specifics of using a frontend framework in this article.
Headless WordPress Best Practices
You’re already well-versed in the realm of “Headless WordPress”! Here are a few additional tips that can help you along the way.
1. SEO Plugins and Schema Markup
It’s advisable to use an SEO plugin such as Rankmath or Yoast SEO. This allows editors to easily manage SEO-specific data and content, which frontend developers can then utilize. Incorporating Schema Markup can also enhance user experience and improve search engine ranking.
Tip: Check out my article on the Top 7 SEO Tips!
2. Sitemap and robots.txt
Your “new frontend” should have an XML sitemap and a robots.txt file to help search engines like Google understand your website.
You should definitely use OpenGraph meta tags on your new website to make posts more engaging on social media.
4. Use of a CDN
A Content Delivery Network (CDN) can improve your website’s performance. You can also use WordPress plugins and providers like Cloudinary to efficiently manage media content, such as images.
5. Disable Backend Search Engine Indexing
In the WordPress admin dashboard, navigate to Settings → Reading and activate the option “Discourage search engines from indexing this site.” This prevents Google and other search engines from indexing your backend.
6. Host on Subdomain
I recommend installing WordPress on a subdomain like “wp.example.com.” This makes it easier for writers and editors to remember the domain.
Bonus: How to Completely Disable the WordPress Frontend
The frontend of the WordPress site consumes unnecessary resources when using Headless WordPress. Since you only need access to the admin area, you can completely deactivate the frontend.
You can achieve this by creating a “blank theme.” Tip: Check out my article on creating child themes.
Simply download the zip file and then go to Design → Themes → Add New → Upload Theme in the WordPress admin. Here, you can select the zip file, install and activate the theme, and the frontend of your website will be deactivated.
Tip: By default, the theme now redirects to /wp-admin/. If you want to change the URL (for example, to your actual website with the new frontend), extract the zip file on your computer and edit the following part in index.php:
Now, the WordPress frontend redirects to example.com. Excellent!
Headless WordPress may seem challenging at first, but with the right tools and sufficient knowledge, it brings many benefits. With this article, you’ve taken the first step toward creating a successful Headless WordPress website! Congratulations!
Interested in having a Headless WordPress site?
Get in touch with me! I'm here to help.Contact now