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Minimalist Guide for Static WordPress

Why Static WordPress?

As digital experiences are evolving (the advent of smart watches, virtual reality headgear, etc), developers have to spend lots of time creating custom solutions to deliver content to a variety of devices.

Enterprises or companies today need a “headless” CMS (content management system) that lets them use as many  “heads” ( frontend delivery systems)  as they need to serve the end-users, depending on the channel or device. 

In WordPress websites, the front end (the website) and the backend (the WP admin) are tightly coupled. 

Also, WordPress creates website pages dynamically, which means, it publishes them on the fly for users as they request them in their browser. 

This coupled and dynamic WordPress provides ease of use but also creates performance and security issues and apart from that doesn’t support multi-channel content creation. 

Using WordPress you can create content for websites and mobiles only.

Above all, to overcome the security and performance issues WordPress website owners have to invest huge amounts of resources (set up caching plugins, security plugins, backup plugins, setting up CDNs, etc) in optimizing their sites. 

These tools or plugins can be difficult to set up and maintain. They can also make WordPress bulky, and can conflict with one another.  Also, sites can still get hacked, and may not improve their performance.

Then what’s the solution for multi-channel content creation, performance and security issues with WordPress? 

The answer is Decoupled or Static WordPress.

What is Static WordPress?

Static WordPress is a copy of WordPress sites that are created as pre-rendered files and pages, and are completely disconnected from the servers. 

There are two different ways we can make WordPress websites static :

  1. Headless WordPress-  In headless wordpress front-end and backend are decoupled. WP admin (back-end) is used mainly  for content management and the front end gets the content from the WP REST API or WPGraphQL.
  2. Static Content Generation – You can build your site in WordPress as usual (themes, plugins, and all) and then use a suitable platform in generating a static version of your site. 

Headless WordPress

Before getting into headless WordPress let’s try to understand a few concepts related to headless WordPress. 

Traditional CMS

A traditional CMS allows content creators to produce, publish, and manage content in the backend, together with a content delivery layer on the frontend e.g. web page templates.

The architecture of a traditional CMS is such that the front and back end are inseparable, they are tightly coupled. 

Due to this in traditional CMS users can create, store, manage and publish content all using a single interface. 

For non-technical users publishing simple content like a blog, this is a seamless setup.

So before the advent of devices like smartwatches, virtual reality headsets, etc, a traditional CMS was sufficient to create your presence online. 

That’s the reason why WordPress currently powers 30 percent of the internet

The head in a traditional CMS architecture represents the front-end, and the body represents the backend. 

Headless CMS

The presentation layer of an application is separated from backend services in headless architecture.   

In headless CMS, the frontend is removed, leaving alone the backend. Now the backend acts as a content repository only. 

This helps developers in quickly coding and designing front-end experiences in their preferred language without worrying about restrictive back-end technologies. 

They can use Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to connect the back-end functions to any front-end delivery layer.

So, in headless CMS frontend developers are responsible for delivering and presenting the content. This means that non-technical marketers and business users are excluded from the scene.

Decoupled CMS

In decoupled CMS content creators are provided ready-made templates and easy-to-use tools for creating and publishing content. It allows developers as well as non-technical users or marketers to create and publish content. 

So a marketer can still launch a website, landing page or eCommerce store without any technical assistance. However, unlike traditional CMS where the front and backend were tightly coupled, both components communicate with each other through API calls.

Therefore a decoupled CMS is a headless CMS, but with the option of a “head” for the purpose of traditional content authoring. 

The terms decoupled CMS and headless CMS are used synonymously.

Headless or Decoupled WordPress 

The WordPress architecture is monolithic, or in simple words, user interface and data access are combined.

So, WordPress on its own is not headless (backend and frontend are tightly coupled) but with the help of the bundled REST API, it can be turned into a headless or decoupled CMS.

WordPress developers created the  REST API in 2016, which gave users the power to make their WordPress sites headless. 

When WordPress has decoupled the backend, the API is all that remains in a headless WordPress which lets you create posts and pages using the known interfaces. 

With Headless WordPress, marketing and content creator teams can continue to work with their familiar WordPress interface and the developers can use the tools they are familiar with like React, GraphQL, etc.

Advantages of headless WordPress 

Fewer Restrictions – When you uncouple WordPress, you gain nearly endless control from a development standpoint. Front-end developers can maximize their creativity with dynamic uses of JavaScript, and deliver beyond the template experience.  

The REST API started a new era where the content management powers of WordPress could be extended beyond the WordPress root directory on a server, like an app, a hand-coded site, or even different platforms altogether.

So your existing site content can now be developed as a static site, progressive web app, etc while continuing the use of WordPress as the engine for content creation.

Multi-Channel Publishing – One of the primary reasons to opt for headless WordPress over a traditional monolith WordPress is to simplify multi-channel content publishing. Making WordPress headless will enable the process of posting content on more than one platform at the same time. This could be your business’ calendar, smartwatch, social media platforms, Internet of Things (IoT), etc.

Increased scalability – When you develop with a headless system, you can scale it up very quickly. Your can continue to build content, and since you are now using APIs, you can respond to new user needs quickly. 

Better Performance – Headless WordPress improves your website’s speed since it simplifies the way content loads on the user’s end. Website performance is vital for user experience as well as for  Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Improved security – Headless WordPress minimizes risk to your website since your content is separated from your front-end delivery system. It is not exposed or at risk to third-party application issues or attackers. 

Lightweight design – When you go for headless WordPress, you shed considerable code weight. Now your system consists of just a database and API calls, due to which your content delivery can be fast, responsive, and smooth. 

Disadvantages of headless WordPress 

Dependency on skilled developers – In Headless CMS working with numerous frontend systems is not an easy task. 

Each system works differently and requires some level of expertise. You’ll need a highly-skilled and multifaceted team of developers and a support team

Inability to use some useful WordPress Features – With headless WordPress, you’ll be unable to use 

  • Contact Forms
  • WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor
  • Native WordPress Comments
  • Site Search
  • Plugins such as WooCommerce, bbPress, BuddyPress etc

Reduced Insight –  Since in the case of headless WordPress content and delivery are separated, you may not be able to gather enough data about consumers to create personalized content. 

You may need to use some business intelligence tools that can help you to collect content analytics.

Formatting Challenges – Due to the inability to use WYSIWYG editor you can’t preview the content to see how it looks on the webpage.  You need to put in some extra measures to predict how content will look on the front end.

Content Management – In headless WordPress you’ll need infrastructure to set up and manage the frontend of your site, app, or any other channel.

Cost – Headless CMS can be more expensive since you need to pay separately for the CMS, the developer, and infrastructure to run your website, app, etc.

Who should go for headless wordpress ?

  • If you’re part of a business looking for a robust CMS that supports multichannel publishing.
  • Sites that put out a lot of content and need to automatically distribute it across a wide array of outlets.
  • You’re a developer who wants to experiment with WordPress and other languages or frameworks.
  • You want to create an app and hook it to a CMS to populate it with content.
  • You’re interested in speeding up your website and improving security along with these other benefits.

Static Content Generation

A static site generator is a system that creates static files from templates. The final output is a collection of HTML pages with assets, often CSS and JavaScript files.

Once you generate the static copy of your site, you’ll be able to host it absolutely anywhere, even on a free GitHub Pages site.

How to convert a WordPress site to static website

You can convert WordPress websites to static sites by either using a plugin, like Simply Static or by a third-party desktop tool like HTTrack.

You need to convert every post and page into a static HTML article. These conversion tools generate HTML files and directories that follow a similar structure as the WordPress website. 

You then need to upload the HTML files, in the same structure, to a subdomain or the primary domain. Now you can access it as if it was the original WP website.

Detailed steps are shown here.

Conclusion

A static WordPress is a way to create content that isn’t tied to a specific platform. Though WordPress was originally not designed for that purpose, due to the availability of REST APIs later it can be used as a headless CMS. 

Headless WordPress has lots of advantages and at the same time disadvantages too. It’s not meant for everyone. Take your decision based on the facts mentioned above.

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Ashish Mishra

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