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How WordPress Can Help You Survive 2019 Without a Headless CMS

5 minute read
Kaya Ismail avatar
Do you need a headless CMS to grow in 2019? Perhaps. However, if it's not an option for you, WordPress might be able to help, sort of.

Among large businesses, and enterprise brands in particular, there’s no shortage of discussion around the headless CMS trend, but not every company is going headless in 2019. And for smaller companies, startups and entrepreneurs with big ambitions, the statistics indicate that the overwhelming majority will be dealing with a “head-on” or traditional CMS for the foreseeable future. In fact, 32.6 percent of websites are powered by WordPress.

So, what’s a company to do, when there’s no budget or stakeholder appetite for a headless CMS migration?

The IoT-Era and the Challenges That Lie Ahead

The main challenge brands face involve trying to meet the demands of the Internet of Things (IoT)-era. We’re seeing more everyday objects like TVs, refrigerators, watches, cars and speakers become connected devices. And more so, these devices are radically changing the way consumers interact with a brand.

Let’s take a look at the smart speaker industry for example, eMarketer has reported that 35.6 million Americans have used a voice-activated assistant device like Amazon Echo or Google Home at least once a month in the previous year. This is a year-over-year increase of 128.9 percent. Furthermore, Gartner has forecasted there will be approximately 12.8 billion consumer-focused connected devices by 2020.

In the Martech Series, Ben Haynes writes that for brands to be successful in the IoT era, they must invest in a headless CMS. “The problem is that today’s CMSs, such as WordPress, were set up only to create and support simple blogs and websites — not a complex IoT network made up of billions of nodes,” said Haynes. “Publishers and marketers will need a CMS that is 'headless' in that it is not limited to managing a single website, but is instead built around a content API that allows it to publish anywhere.”

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WordPress’ REST API: Can it Get the Job Done?

Traditional CMS platforms like WordPress were not built to create enterprise-grade omnichannel experiences. The concept was years away from being imagined when WordPress was first released back in 2001. However, the release of the integrated WordPress REST API in 2016 was an effort to make WordPress "a fully-fledged application framework."

Ana Silva, Communications Manager at Human Made, explained that the REST API feature decouples WordPress, essentially turning it into a headless CMS. “By decoupling content management from front-end display, a headless CMS allows developers to use any technology to display content. And by splitting up your [WordPress] application in this manner, you not only gain greater control, but you can also improve performance and provide a superior user experience,” Silva said.

However, accessing and utilizing the WordPress REST API is fairly complex, wrote John Hughes in CodeinWP. The user will need knowledge in development to understand the fundamentals of how the technology works. “WordPress REST API is no doubt a complex topic. Even for non-developers, however, it’s worthwhile to understand the basics of how this technology works, and what it makes possible.”

As ever, WordPress has an answer — it’s just a little (well, a lot) rough around the edges.

Learning Opportunities

While it can be argued that WordPress’ REST API qualifies it as a headless CMS, the opposing argument holds that a truly headless CMS must do more than simply provide an API. For instance, to help the user truly build an omnichannel experience, the platform should also enable content modeling and previewing in an IoT-device supporting environment — and that’s something that WordPress doesn’t do natively.

One way to circumvent the technicalities of working with WordPress’ API is to draft in IFTTT; short for “If This Then That,” is a free platform that lets you connect various apps and devices via “applets.” IFTTT initially provided users with automated shortcuts, whereby users could post an Instagram image, and then have it immediately published on their WordPress blog using an active applet.

More recently, IFTTT allowed users to deliver content to a number of IoT devices including some GE-powered cookers, dishwashers and refrigerators. The Samsung Washer, WeMo Coffeemaker and Wink Egg Minder are also recognized by IFTTT.

Once again, this doesn’t come close to the APIs, support, enterprise architecture, documentation and omnichannel-friendly content modelling that a true headless CMS will grant you. But if WordPress is all you have, then 2019 can still be the year you build an omnichannel customer experience.

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Drafting in a Static Site Generator

If you’re happy to get technical, teaming WordPress up with a static site generator (SSG) might be the best way to survive 2019 without a truly headless CMS. With an SSG in the mix, you can use WordPress as a tool to create and store content, and then use the REST API to send that content to the SSG, which can in turn handle the front-end presentation layer.

Cody Swann, CEO of Gunner Technology, told CMSWire that drafting in GatsbyJS, a static site generator, worked. We were using WordPress for our own internal CMS and moved over to a newer headless CMS with Gatsby as the front-end,” Swann began. “The wonderful thing about Gatsby [and other SSGs] is that it doesn't care where your content is stored. [So, even if we] had to keep using WordPress for content entry, that would not be a problem, as Gatsby will happily use the WordPress back-end as a single source of data,” he said.