Choosing between a headless CMS and WordPress: a guide for your next website project | Rob Cipolla

Choosing between a headless CMS and WordPress: a guide for your next website project

Posted: November 16, 2023 Estimated reading time: 15 mins

Headless CMS or WordPress: understanding their strengths for informed website choice...



The web is an ever evolving landscape of technologies and content, and there are a a lot of ways to manage said content. WordPress for example powers around 40% of websites on the internet… that is no small feat (and also why I chose to focus on it in this article).

However, in recent years a new kind of CMS (Content Management System) has started making waves, promising more secure, scalable and faster websites. But should you, or your web design and digital marketing agency, make the jump to a shiny new headless CMS instead of old trusty WordPress? Well hopefully this blog post can help you make an informed decision.

What is the Difference Between WordPress and a Headless CMS?

Before diving into the specifics of a headless CMS, it’s important to understand the difference between a headless CMS and a Monolithic one, such as WordPress.

A monolithic CMS, like WordPress, is a type of Content Management System where the front-end and back-end are closely tied together. This means that the system for managing content (back-end) and the part that users interact with on the website (front-end) are part of the same platform and can’t be separated.

A Headless CMS is like a traditional CMS, but with the front-end (what users see) and the back-end (where the content is managed) separated. This allows developers to use any technology they prefer to design the front-end, while the content is stored and managed in the back-end, ready to be used on any platform. This results in more flexibility, potentially better performance, and improved scalability.

So what makes a headless CMS a better option to something like WordPress?

Bring your own frontend

I would go as far as to say that most web developers probably don’t want to work with or develop for WordPress. I won’t dive too far into it, but there are far more interesting and easier to work with frameworks out there which provide a far superior developer experience than the PHP backend WordPress provides.

With the freedom to use modern web frameworks and tools, a developer can create more interactive and customised websites. This process can often be streamlined, leading to more efficient project completion.

This means that you could consider adopting a modern framework like NextJS or Astro. These frameworks enable you to generate fast, secure static websites that perform exceptionally well on Google’s Core Web Vitals tests, which could enhance your site’s SEO.

Easier maintenance

With a headless CMS, you worry less about the maintenance of the CMS itself. Because the front-end and back-end are separated, updates or changes to one side don’t necessarily affect the other. This can potentially reduce the amount of time and resources spent on troubleshooting and maintenance.

This is especially true if you choose to go with solution which you don’t host yourself such as Contentful or Storyblok. In fact as many of these solutions are managed by a third-party, the maintenance of your backend is practically taken care of.

You can kiss good bye to the days of worrying about your 50 plugin security updates!

Enhanced Security

Another advantage of a headless CMS is its enhanced security. With a traditional CMS like WordPress, if the back-end is compromised, the entire website is at risk.

However, in a headless CMS the front-end and back-end are separated, meaning a security breach on one side doesn’t necessarily put the entire system at risk. This does not mean a headless CMS is impervious to attacks, but it does add an extra layer of security and reduces potential damage.

Cost-Effective scalability

A headless CMS is designed to be easily scalable. As your business grows and your needs change, you can add or remove functionalities from your website without disrupting the entire system. This is different from traditional CMSs like WordPress, where changes can often result in downtime or require significant resources to implement. Moreover, due to their API-driven nature, headless CMSs can be more cost-effective in the long run, especially for businesses that operate on different platforms.

Multi channel content

A headless CMS allows for a more seamless integration of content across multiple channels. Whether it’s your website, a mobile app, or even a smartwatch app, a headless CMS allows you to push content to any platform, providing a consistent experience across all channels. This multi-channel content capability is a major benefit for businesses with a wide digital footprint or for those planning to expand into new digital platforms.

Why Shouldn’t you choose a headless CMS?

Requires More Experienced Developers

One potential downside to using a headless CMS is that it generally requires more experienced developers. The separation of front-end and back-end means that your team will need to be proficient in multiple technologies. This can be a higher cost to your business, as such developers often command higher salaries compared to those who specialise in a single technology like WordPress.

If you are a digital agency mostly building marketing websites looking to switch from WordPress, this is something to consider closely. The cost to bring on more experienced frontend developers to build the kind of websites mentioned above may not be worth it depending on your client base (in my experience).

Limited Availability of Plugins and Extensions

Unlike WordPress, which boasts a vast library of plugins and extensions, headless CMSs typically do not have as many readily available. This means that your development team may have to build functionalities from scratch or rely on open-source packages, which can increase the development time and cost.

Longer Development Time for Simpler Websites

While a headless CMS can offer more flexibility and better performance for complex websites, it might not be the best choice for simpler websites. If you only need a basic blog or a simple eCommerce site, using a headless CMS could actually take longer to develop compared to a traditional CMS like WordPress. This is because each feature, even the most basic ones, will need to be built from scratch or integrated using APIs. This can take considerably more time than using pre-built themes and plugins available in traditional CMSs.

No Need for Multi-Channel Content

If your business operates primarily on a single platform, such as a website, and there are no plans to expand to other digital platforms in the near future, a headless CMS might not be the best choice. One advantage of a headless CMS is its ability to push content to multiple platforms seamlessly. However, if this feature is not necessary for your business, it could result in unnecessary complexity and costs. A traditional CMS like WordPress, which is designed to manage content for a single platform, might be a more suitable and cost-effective solution.

So which should you choose?


In my opinion, if you are happy with using the many themes and builders (and their limitations) WordPress has available to you, you are on a budget and need quick turn arounds… then WordPress is probably for you.

Most of the problems I have seen over the years with WP in small agencies comes from them trying to create and manage bespoke hand coded themes for their clients. When you do this you become a slave to WordPress’ daily plugin/theme updates and will spend more time maintaining websites than you do building them.

The way I see it, if you find yourself wanting to do things which are a little more custom and bespoke for your clients - it might be time to invest in more experienced developers and one of the many Headless CMS options out there.

Headless CMS

If you are seeking flexibility, improved performance, and scalability, a headless CMS might be the right choice. It’s particularly beneficial if your business operates across multiple digital platforms, or if you have plans to expand to more platforms like an app in the future.

Also, if you’re aiming for a highly customized, interactive website and have the resources to hire experienced developers, a headless CMS can be a great option. It provides an elevated developer experience and liberates you from the constraints of traditional CMSs.

With a headless CMS, developers are free to use modern frontend frameworks such as React, Vue, Angular, or Next.js. These frameworks offer several benefits:

  1. Improved Performance: These frameworks are designed to enhance the speed and efficiency of websites, leading to better user experiences and potentially higher SEO rankings.
  2. Greater Flexibility: Because the frontend is decoupled from the backend, developers can independently update and redesign the frontend without affecting the backend.
  3. Component-Based Architecture: This allows for reusability of code, which can speed up development and improve consistency across the site.
  4. State Management: These frameworks often come with robust solutions for managing application state, which can be critical for creating dynamic, interactive web applications.
  5. Community Support: These modern frameworks often have active communities and extensive libraries of plugins and extensions, providing a lot of resources and support for developers.

Remember, the choice of a frontend framework should be guided by the specific needs and capabilities of your team.

However, it’s important to remember that a headless CMS is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It can be a powerful tool for certain businesses, but it may not be the best fit for everyone. Carefully evaluate your business needs, resources, and future plans before making a decision.

Personally, I would choose a headless CMS over WordPress - but I am a developer!

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