It’s 2022, but WordPress is still the most popular Content Management System (CMS) with a 62.4% market share. Many developers, designers, and contributors love it for its ease of use and the massive amount of free plugins. So why are we here talking about Next.js instead?
All frameworks get outdated at some point, and WordPress CMS is no exception: its 19 years old codebase isn’t a good fit for the future web. Headless solutions are rapidly taking over, and with 22.6% annual market growth, they’re poised to overtake WordPress.
But a headless platform alone won’t take you there. To build a fully-functional website, you must couple a headless CMS with a front-end solution. Among all meta-frameworks, Next.js stands out. It’s made with user experience in mind and performs better than WordPress themes.
If you want to explore the benefits of Next.js with a headless CMS in place of an old-fashioned WordPress website, you’re in the right place!
This post covers
- Wait, does this comparison make sense?
- A glance at WordPress
- Why WordPress doesn’t cut it anymore
- WordPress isn’t a good fit for SEO
- Headless CMSs come to rescue
- Why use Next.js instead of a WordPress theme?
- Third way: headless WordPress with Next.js
- Closing thoughts
- Ready to build a web application with Next.js?
Wait, does this comparison make sense?
If you are familiar with web development, you may be wondering why we are comparing apples to oranges. Next.js and WordPress belong to different software types: one is a front-end meta-framework while the other is an old-style CMS featuring both front-end and back-end. So why compare them?
Because a headless CMS with a front-end framework can compete with a WordPress site. You may now think: “But there’s also decoupled WordPress, which you can combine with Next.js!” It is a good option in some cases, but most of the time, you’ll need a more reliable CMS.
A robust headless CMS can give WordPress a run for its money. Coupled with Next.js, it can easily beat WordPress in most aspects, including SEO and editor friendliness. But before we dive deep, let’s make sure you are familiar with the basic concepts.
A glance at WordPress
WordPress (WP) is a traditional CMS that started out in 2003 as a fork of the blogging software b2/cafelog. WP instantly got popular in the open-source community and is now used for blogging and other purposes like building online shops. Over 455 million websites use WordPress, among them are the enterprise sized Time magazine and The Next Web.
WP offers a basic front-end and back-end out of the box. In a couple of minutes, you can tune your theme and add some content with the help of the dashboard. However, to customize your website further, you have to use plugins. There are more than 55,000 of them in the WP repository, each featuring a particular functionality.
For example, you can install a gallery plugin if you want your website to feature a portfolio, or a social media plugin to display the latest posts from your Instagram. If no plugin is available, you can opt for changing the core, but beware that you’ll probably need a developer team in this case.
Why WordPress doesn’t cut it anymore
What made WordPress awesome back in the day now turns it into a nightmare! Sustaining a WP website may get expensive, and load times tend to get longer as the site grows.
So, while it may work well for a couple of years, once you start scaling, you will quickly outgrow it.
But why exactly does this occur? Let’s dive deeper into WP’s drawbacks.
Plugin-based architecture provides users with flexibility and ease of use but comes at a cost.
Literally, supporting plugins sometimes gets soul crushingly expensive. Here is an example of how that is for e-commerce.
When dealing with someone else’s money, you must ensure operations are secure. You can’t rely on a free WordPress plugin because new vulnerabilities won’t be addressed timely, and you’d probably have to pay through the nose for enterprise-grade security.
Also, the bigger your website is, the more paid plugins you need. For example, you may need a plugin to make your site scalable. That’s how your expenses grow.
Additionally, many plugins may slow down your site because they are heavy to load. And some plugins may not work together well or even stop working as a result of a WP core update.
You may not know this but WordPress sites are a gold mine for hackers and cyber criminals. Millions of websites use the same WordPress core, so once someone discovers a vulnerability, hackers will swarm everyone’s systems.
Plus, it’s easy to recognize whether a website is WordPress-based. You just have to check if the page ‘/wp-admin’ exists.
Development may get slow when introducing custom optimizations to the WP core. Using PHP - an old and rarely updated language - is the reason for it. You need more lines of code for simple tasks.
In addition, object-oriented programming is poor in PHP and does not promote good readability.
Also, don’t forget that having a dedicated WordPress developer team increases your total expenses!
WordPress isn’t a good fit for SEO
Until recently, WordPress was the top choice when building a site with SEO in mind. Although the platform only offers limited SEO-optimization features out of the box, many plugins for better SEO are available.
For instance, a static-site generation plugin will serve you a static website site on demand and get them cached in the CDN. But as we mentioned earlier, plugins slow down your site, so plugins are not a remedy.
To change your website's look, you may need to migrate your site to another WP theme. There are many great themes, and you can pick the one that best fits your UX design. However, there’s a caveat: different themes score differently on SEO!
For example, only some themes provide proper image optimization. Additionally, switching from one theme to another may secretly affect your metadata or permalinks!
WordPress’s performance is usually good, but only if we consider the desktop view. For mobile view, load times tend to be longer, as assessed by Lighthouse. Since search engines evaluate mobile and desktop versions, with a slow-to-load mobile version, your site will occupy a lower place in the search results.
Also, something to keep in mind is that WordPress is known to mess up sitemaps because duplicates are sometimes created in its category system. And Google punishes you for duplicate links.
Headless CMSs come to rescue
Arguably, the worst thing about WordPress is that it restricts your technology choice. Meanwhile, you can solve most problems by choosing the optimal tech stack for your use case!
Using a Next.js-compliant headless CMS gives you that freedom. If you aren’t familiar with what ‘headless’ is, don’t worry, the concept is easy to grasp. But it’s not a synonym for “dumb.”
Here, “head” refers to a front-end, while a CMS is a body. But these two parts are not wired together - they are decoupled. If WordPress didn’t push you to use a theme and allowed for whatever front-end tech stack you’d like, that would be decoupled architecture!
A headless CMS is here just to store, organize, and retrieve data from the database and serve it via RESTful or GraphQL endpoints. You can simultaneously use this data in a web application or another device.
The same isn’t true for WordPress, where you can only use your data on the dedicated front-end.
A headless CMS alleviates the need to understand back-end technologies like middleware or ORMs. Administering the database or ensuring security is not your responsibility either. Additionally, since the CMS’s code is not open-source, it’s harder for hackers to find vulnerabilities.
On the downside, creating a front-end is entirely on you! Actually, you may not even have one, the CMS doesn’t care.
In addition, you can tailor your front-end to the challenge you are solving and change your website’s look quickly.
Why use Next.js instead of a WordPress theme?
Next.js is a React meta-framework particularly fit for SEO. The obvious upside of having a React-based front-end instead of a theme is the freedom of visual solutions you get. And with popular libraries like MaterialUI, your front-end won’t be glitchy regardless of the page content.
Next.js features many tools to get on top of performance, such as lazy loading images, static site generation, well-structured sitemaps, and middleware. That’s why a Next.js site scores well on Core Web Vitals! Meanwhile, for WP to score well on these metrics, you need to invest a lot of time and money, maybe even hire an SEO professional.
Also, incremental static regeneration ensures good scalability out of the box. Actually, WordPress can be highly scalable, too, but you’ll have to invest in plugins and have a development team. It’s much cheaper to reach good scalability with Next.js.
With Next.js, you don’t need plugins because integrations with other services are done programmatically. If your site runs on WP, you’ll need to install a plugin if you want to duplicate website blog posts to a Facebook page.
No plugins are needed if you are using Next.js, so your website loads even faster! But your developers will need to spend some time exploring the API documentation.
Third way: headless WordPress with Next.js
We’re not yet done here. Actually, headless WordPress exists! To make your WP headless, you need a plugin featuring GraphQL or REST API endpoints. (Don’t forget: more plugins make your site slower!)
With headless WP, you keep the best from the traditional approach while benefiting from the decoupled architecture. Headless WP provides the same WYSWYG tool many of us are familiar with.
After you add an entry to the CMS, a build hook (if it’s React) is triggered, and the new content appears on the website! Also, content creators don’t need additional training and can set up the website quickly. The headless CMS version is faster than the monolith version yet slower than other headless CMSs.
On the downside, sustaining a headless WP is costlier than other CMSs. The platform also requires ongoing maintenance. However, it’s a good solution if you are migrating from WP to headless and your employees are already familiar with the system.
Additionally, you are free to choose any front-end technology you like. But remember: Next.js is a great fit in this case, too.
In most cases, WordPress fails to stand up to the modern web’s demands. However, many website owners opt for it out of habit or a lack of information regarding WordPress alternatives.
WordPress is not so good, even for low-budget personal websites. Beware: your WP site might get hacked soon after you deploy it unless a decent security plugin is in place. And you’ll get spammed to the death by people from all over the world. If you care about security, a better (and cheaper) option would be adhering to a headless approach with Next.js on the front.
To conclude, whether you go for a full-fledged headless CMS or headless WP, you may benefit from featuring Nex.js in the front-end.
Ready to build a web application with Next.js?
Ikius can help you implement and manage your Next.js project or application. We can build something from scratch or work with your devs to lend them an extra hand during implementation.
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