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Dominic Magnifico
Dominic Magnifico

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🧐 Rethinking WordPress: The Pros and Cons of Going Headless

Ah yes, the first quarter of the year is done. Marketing budgets have been set, and for some, that means embarking on the journey of a website rebuild. You’re familiar with WordPress, but your experience with it in the past has been harrowing. Bloated, slow, a pain in the ass to update. You might have developers on one hand shouting from the rooftops to use anything other than WordPress. On the other you have some pushing pre-built templates in your direction as if they’ve crafted them from marble themselves. It’s a lot to process.

I want to take the opportunity to write a few posts that provide some insight into considerations I make when choosing a technology stack for projects at House of Giants. Today, we’ll explore the differences between a traditional WordPress build and Headless.

The Traditional: Ol’ Reliable WordPress

Traditional WordPress builds are rich in features and supported by a robust community, making it a solid choice for many projects. Let’s take a look at some of the positives that make traditional WordPress builds a compelling option for many:


  • ⚔️ Good Themes Go Far: Well-crafted themes are hard to come by, and finding one of these gems isn't always straightforward. But when you do, the benefits can be well worth it. Great SEO, performant, and accessible, a thoughtfully built WordPress theme will last you years, and enable you to seamlessly manage your content.
  • 🦑 A Community of Giants: One of WordPress's most invaluable assets is its vast, well-established community. This network of users and developers creates an environment where troubleshooting becomes less intimidating and far more manageable.
  • 📡 Timeless Technology: Traditional WordPress is built using a server-side rendered approach, where PHP is responsible for rendering the site. This means all of your content is easily available to be crawled by Google. The result is classic, easy-to-read HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  • 🛋 A Comfortable Dashboard: WordPress has always provided an excellent editing experience for folks who need it. Pair this with the illusive well-built theme, and managing your content can become as stress-free as possible.

On the flip side, a traditional WordPress build isn't without its flaws. Certain aspects can hinder site performance and flexibility. We have to consider these factors when choosing a technology stack for our partners. Here's a closer look at some of the cons associated with a traditional WordPress build:


  • ⚡️ Plugin Overload: The allure of plugins is undeniable, offering tons of features and customizations. However, this can quickly become the bane of all existence as casually adding plugin after plugin will weigh your site down. The result is a sluggish theme that not only tests the patience of your users but inevitably will affect your revenue.
  • 📊 The Data Dilemma: WordPress's default data structure, designed to be versatile, often ends up delivering more than what's needed. It uses a bit of a catchall approach that returns all the data it has, rather than the bits and pieces you need. This overabundance of data can further strain your site's performance, making efficiency a casualty of excess.
  • 🙆 Flexibility vs. Rigidity: While WordPress offers a broad canvas for development, certain creative efforts can be difficult. Were you dreaming of seamless page transitions or weaving complex animations into your site? Working this into the server-side rendered magic of PHP may create some speed bumps during development. These aspirations, though achievable, demand a deeper development effort, pushing the boundaries of WordPress's traditional setup.

These challenges highlight the need for a thoughtful approach to WordPress development, where the balance between functionality and performance is carefully managed.

Let’s Go Headless

Venturing beyond the traditional WordPress framework introduces us to the fairly trendy realm of the Headless CMS. Here, the frontend presentation layer is decoupled from the backend content management system. In this context, WordPress serves purely as a repository for your content, accessible via API. This separation allows developers the freedom to use any frontend technology they prefer, from React to Vue, or even HTMX. Thus, enabling the creation of dynamic, fast, and highly personalized user experiences. A Headless CMS represents a leap toward flexibility and performance, redefining how we think about content delivery and site architecture. Let’s break down the pros and cons of this approach:


  • 🎉 Freedom of Tech: A headless build enables you to choose the stack you want. There are a million to choose from, and a lot of times it comes down to the developer experience. When choosing a stack, however, it’s important to ensure that it’s something that will be around for more than a few months. Most clients will need that stability.
  • 🏎 Speed, I Am Speed: With the ability to statically generate pages, or even individual components, Headless builds have the opportunity to be faster than fast. (I made two references to the cinematic masterpiece that is Cars in this one bullet point. Impressive.)
  • 💅 Speed AND Style: Pair that speed with as many crazy page transitions and complex animations as you like. Leveraging JavaScript instead of PHP to render the front end makes all that parallax I know you want to add much easier to accomplish.
  • ⚖️ Scalable by Nature: Traffic spikes? Headless laughs in the face of the traffic you’ll get off that viral TikTok you made promoting it.
  • 🏰 Fort Knox Level Security: With less surface area for attacks, and the ability to obscure the domain used to manage your content, you’ll set yourself up for some additional security with a Headless build.


  • 🎓 Learning Curve: There’s no doubt that a headless build has a bit more of a learning curve. There are necessary connections that need to be made between the frontend and the backend that go beyond the tasks in a traditional build.
  • 🤡 Setup Shenanigans: Because your frontend and backend are decoupled, they end up needing to be hosted in different places (however products like[Atlas from WPEngine]are making this a bit easier). Managing code in two different places presents some unique challenges.

Making the Call

So, which road should you take? If you're running a content-heavy site that values ease of management over everything else, traditional WordPress may be a great choice. But if you’re aiming for speed, and a tailor-made user experience, headless might suit your needs best.

In the end, it's not just about choosing a CMS. It’s about choosing the right tool for the story you want to tell and the experience you want to create. Whether you stick with WordPress or go headless, the best choice is the one that aligns with the project needs, goals, and, importantly, the needs of the end users who will interact with your site.

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