WordPress is the world’s most popular open-source Content Management System (CMS). What started as a platform for bloggers became a tech titan that helped people establish their digital presence worldwide. It is a powerful content management system that houses an ecosystem of themes and plug-ins that any website owner would appreciate.

But for developers who want to create a digital experience without the constraints of a monolithic platform, the standard WordPress is not enough. That’s why many developers and web admins go the route of headless WordPress. By decoupling the frontend from the backend, WordPress can have an architecture designed for flexibility, multi-channel publishing, and better performance.

This article will explain headless WordPress, its benefits, and how to use and set it up.

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What is Headless WordPress?

A site built with WordPress offers many benefits, including decoupling content editing teams and developers. A headless WordPress setup allows both the marketing team and the content team to continue using the WordPress interface they’re familiar with while letting the development team enjoy using tools they’re comfortable with, such as React and GraphQL.

Before we talk about what headless WordPress is, you need to have a good grasp of what headless content management systems are. Most CMS was designed to handle both the frontend and backend of a website. If you’re unfamiliar with the terms, the front-end involves all the interfaces the site visitors are interacting with. Backend, on the other hand, covers data organization — basically everything that operates the website behind the curtains.

This kind of traditional WordPress setup is often called “coupled” CMS architecture and is popular with beginners. Both ends can access the website’s database, and together, they can produce things the visitor requests, such as web pages and other assets.

A Headless WordPress works differently. A headless setup removes all the frontend tools, leaving only the backend content management tools to access the website’s database. This decoupled WordPress setup separates the head (frontend) from the body (backend) and only allows the backend to access the website’s database.

Decoupling WordPress is not always a good idea, but there are times when this type of configuration works best.

Benefits of Headless WordPress

The primary selling point of a headless WordPress setup is more control and flexibility over your website. With the separation of the frontend and backend, you will gain control of where your website’s data and content are managed while simultaneously having complete dominion over your website content’s visual display.

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Improved Performance

Many web developers consider the WordPress CMS heavy, mainly because it packs a lot of functionality. While this is great for website building, it can, unfortunately, make loading time slow. This is because a traditional WordPress site renders web pages dynamically, and it can take forever since it has to run through tons of core files and functions.

A WordPress website relies on PHP, which we all know isn’t the fastest programming language. Processing all that code, even for an updated PHP version, can take a while. In addition, this process must happen for every site visitor, putting more load on your server.

A headless WordPress removes all unnecessary roadblocks, loading only the essential files through the REST API instead of storing static HTML pages and sending them out whenever the user requests. Without loading dynamic pieces of information such as WordPress core files, your website is guaranteed to appear almost instantaneously. A headless CMS is no doubt much lighter and can load your site faster.

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Frontend Flexibility

While the WordPress CMS does offer a lot of frontend flexibility due to its vast selection of customizable themes and plug-ins, not every web admin prefers to control their websites this way. With a headless CMS, you can outsource the frontend to other software while enjoying the “content management” part you’re accustomed to. As long as the software of your choice can make requests to WordPress API, that is.

Such a headless setup is ideal for people such as site administrators and content creators who are acquainted with using WordPress because the experience is basically the same. Creating and publishing posts will still be the same, and they can still manage the menus and other options in the same way they’re used to doing. Headless WordPress is also tremendously beneficial for frontend developers who prefer working with another application and utilizing other programming languages besides what WordPress offers. They can also add a frontend framework to this setup if they choose to do so.

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Multichannel Publishing

It’s easy for beginners to use WordPress for standard desktop and mobile websites. Still, businesses who want to scale are more likely to use other necessary interfaces like mobile apps, social media websites, and even virtual assistants like Alexa. This can be troublesome for web admins since they’d have to deal with multiple platforms simultaneously. If that’s the case, then implementing headless WordPress can be a good idea.

If you decide to publish across different channels using standard WordPress, then you’re up for a bad time. Generally, you would have to reformat your content for every interface, and such a process is simply not scalable.

A headless CMS can act as a central hub for multi-channel publishing. A single WordPress installation can cater to multiple channels, so webmasters can add content usable through any media, whether websites, mobile apps, or any app that can read data. And suppose ever you decide to make any changes to some of the content in your content management system. In that case, the changes you’ve made will automatically reflect across all the devices you’ve connected it to.

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Heightened Security

Setting up headless WordPress means you enjoy an extra degree of security. Using a headless CMS is akin to setting up a remote server that’s very challenging to find.

Do you know why?

It’s because rather than using a login screen on a frontend server, headless WordPress will use an API to connect to your websites and apps. As a result, hackers will have more difficulty accessing your space and brute-forcing their way into your confidential content. Of course, that is if they even manage to locate your content hub.

A headless WordPress setup is also an excellent way to defend your website against DDoS attacks. When you place your front and back end on other servers, DDoSing your content’s source can be tricky. Keep in mind that hackers can still attack your website’s frontend by overloading it, but if you’re using multi-channel publishing, most of your platforms will remain untouched.

Simply put, the decoupled and headless approach can significantly minimize the risk of your website getting attacked by people with malicious intent. In addition, headless WordPress separates your content from your frontend delivery, lowering the risk of exposure or third-party application issues.

Better Scalability

As mentioned earlier, headless WordPress is ideal for scaling businesses. A decoupled WordPress’s detached nature makes redesigns and scalability easier. Redesigning your website using traditional WordPress or scaling it up will force you to shut it down for maintenance since you’ll have to upgrade your server or website.

You’d also need to acquire a separate clone or a new staging site until your current website is up and ready. And since you can’t just stop posting content while working on the site redesign, you’d either have to move the content all over the new site, or you’d have to replace the theme files you’ve created and changed for the original site. You can already sense how messy a website redesign can be with standard WordPress.

However, if you choose to opt for headless WordPress, you won’t have to encounter these problems. A headless WordPress approach can still give you access to your old content. And if you decide to upgrade your website and close it down for a while, you can still access the backend and keep working with your content. In addition, upgrading your website while on a headless WordPress setup is more effortless. You can easily change whatever language or platform your website is running on without worrying about migrating one of your content. Just integrate the API to your new website, and you’re all set.

Disadvantages of Headless WordPress

No matter how useful headless WordPress is, it still harbors some disadvantages, especially for those who don’t have extensive programming knowledge. Headless WordPress solutions typically abandon the CMS’s stereotypical use and choose to “reinvent the wheel” instead. While the disadvantages don’t outweigh the benefits of headless WordPress, you still need to keep them in mind.

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When it comes to headless WordPress implementation, what you see is what you get. Developers will quickly realize they’ve lost features like the live preview option. They also won’t be able to view what site visitors see on the front end, making publishing content cumbersome. Simply put, web admins with no programming and coding background will find it challenging to take full advantage of a headless architecture.

Such a change also means having just anyone in charge of your website’s daily maintenance. You would need a dedicated team to manage a headless WordPress configuration to fully get the best value out of it.

Advanced Programming Knowledge is Necessary

Utilizing a headless WordPress configuration also means hiring just anyone won’t do the trick. If you want to properly make use of a headless site, you need to hire a specialist to do the job. Headless WordPress may allow you to use the backend to publish content. However, you’d still need to use languages like JavaScript and APIs like REST API to execute all the crucial functions necessary to run the CMS.

In fact, one of the primary reasons that gave rise to CMS like WordPress is to reduce the dependence on developers. Headless WordPress developers must manage simple configurations and customize the customer’s user experience. However, having them on the project can create bottlenecks that may cause friction in publishing content. But remember: you still need to hire an expert to properly utilize a headless WordPress Website, so you have to be ready for any possible consequences.

In short, hiring WordPress developers will help you get the most value out of a headless WordPress configuration.

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More Complex Maintenance and Credentialing

One of the notable drawbacks of using headless WordPress is the need for more complex maintenance. Maintaining the complex split development environment of the front and backend without coding knowledge is difficult. Not to mention the complexity of maintaining the security of the two separate systems. And since the two codebases are hosted in different locations, you might need two entirely different workflows to make them work together.

A flexible WordPress equates to a highly complex architecture, with multiple configurable options and components to account for. Each component must be carefully designed, managed, and maintained. Failure to comply with such methods will result in performance, reliability, and, most importantly, scalability issues.

And although such a setup can offer better security due to the separation of the two codebases, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you no longer need to employ optimal security practices. For example, compared to a monolithic CMS, a headless approach will require implementing different user credentialing. This process can be cumbersome and will require the expertise of professional WordPress developers.

Web admins and developers should expect maintaining the two different codebases to be time-consuming, with hints of technical glitches from time to time.


As mentioned earlier, a headless WordPress will require you to build everything from the ground up instead of taking ready-to-use themes off the shelf like traditional WordPress. Such a feat is not only challenging but also expensive. In addition, maintaining and making changes to a headless configuration will require more development resources.

If you go headless, expect to pay for things like the frontend framework, dashboard and API, and the development environment.

Critical Features Stops Working

Once you decide to use WordPress headless. expect the following features to stop working:

  • Site Search
  • Contact Forms
  • Plug-ins (WooCommerce, BuddyPress, WP-Members, etc.)
  • Native WordPress Comments

Web admins and site managers accustomed to using these features must adjust accordingly since a headless approach will eliminate these crucial features.

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Should You Use Headless WordPress?

No matter how attractive the idea of using a headless WordPress is, it’s not for everyone. But we can all agree that the performance benefits of such a configuration are an ideal ground for developers with the resources to take their CMS to the next level.

If you’re unsure whether you want to go the path of headless WordPress, then you need to keep the following insights in mind.

Use headless WordPress if:

  • You intend to publish content across many platforms. The beauty of using WordPress as a backend is you can create custom-built omnichannel customer journeys by utilizing APIs and sending them through different channels. Doing so will maximize both traffic and reach.
  • You want to build a personalized product. If you appreciate customizability, you will benefit significantly from going headless. The nature of a headless CMS architecture opens you up to the processes and workflows that a standard WordPress can’t.

Don’t use headless WordPress if:

  • You can’t configure and optimize your APIs. Going all out with a headless CMS without having proper knowledge will do you more harm than good. If you fail to properly utilize your APIs, you’re risking the performance and security of your website.


  • You need a flexible backend. Going headless means the backend and the APIs are all that will remain at your disposal. Therefore, if you are already comfortable with headless platforms, you should move on to entirely headless platforms with Content-as-a-Service (CaaS) offerings.

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How to Setup a Headless WordPress Website

If you decide to go head-on with WordPress as the backend, you have two main ways. It’s either you use plug-ins, or you could code it yourself.

Using Plug-Ins

If you’re interested in using plug-ins to establish a headless CMS, there are many to choose from. One is the WP Headless, arguably the most popular plug-in for a headless configuration. It can provide you with server access to the front end, redirecting posting permalinks to the editor’s screen.

Another plug-in to consider is WP Headless CMS Framework, which offers a more in-depth option that includes detailed documentation. In addition, it comes with multiple configurable options, allowing you to choose whether you want to enable or disable whatever you need (or don’t).

Some of the plug-ins to consider are the following:

  • WPGraphQl
  • Copart
  • Headless Mode

Using plug-ins is no doubt the easiest route to go.

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DIY Coding 

We recommend coding it yourself if you want more control over the entire process. Of course, it will be challenging at first, but there are many tutorials to help you out. One is an in-depth guide to headless WordPress released by Smashing Magazine to help out folks by offering them step-by-step code snippets. If you want to learn as you go, headless WordPress walkthroughs can help you as well.

Online tutorials are essential to make the process of separating WordPress’s backend and frontend much easier. As you progress with this endeavor, you’ll see how posting content across platforms and coding with a familiar programming language play an integral part in a headless WordPress.


Here at Mack Media Group, we believe that headless WordPress is the future. WordPress as a backend brings forth tons of benefits, but it also introduces challenges that can be too much to handle for regular people with a non-technical background. While decoupling WordPress has its advantages, we still believe that the traditional WordPress setup is a viable option, especially for those who like to keep things simple.