The Future of WordPress, an Evolution of Function

The Future of WordPress

A Look Into the Likely Future for the World’s Most Popular Content Management System

At present (July 2019), WordPress is reportedly running as much as 30% of the world wide web. That is a mind-boggling amount of content. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that this open-source content management system has become a household name.

WordPress has become so well-known that when your aunt tells people what you do, she is just as likely to say “oh they build WordPress sites” as she is to say “they are a web designer and developer”.

But as the saying goes, what goes up must come down.
Or does it???

You likely haven’t noticed this in the personal blog and business world yet, but in the tech world, WordPress has been losing a bit of ground as the darling tool for building websites. The most common complaints are poor performance, security risks, and maintenance/hosting costs. I should also include a general dislike but warming up to the new content editor Gutenberg. But that is an article for another day.

The general issues and complaints that people have with WordPress have lead them to explore different site-building options for their projects and clients.

Among the biggest trends at the moment for replacing WordPress are static site generators and headless content management systems.

If when reading that previous statement, your eyes went a little crossed or you heard an almost inaudible sound like “Fwoop” in your head you aren’t alone. 

Let me break it down for you or you can skip ahead.

Static Site Generators

An app, platform, or technology that creates a static HTML website from a designated content source. The content source could be a database, markdown files, HTML files, or any one of several other content sources.

In other words, a static site generator collects a bunch of different pieces of content and then assembles it into a website complete with navigation, HTML, images, CSS, and javascript.

Pros of Sites Built with Static Generators

  • Crazy Fast – no database queries means you are just loading and rendering raw HTML. Add a little compression and code minimizing and your bandwidth can be tiny.
  • Low Server Requirements – again, no database means you can host even medium traffic sites on low budget servers or even on a CDN.
  • Nothing to Hack – a static HTML site can’t really be hacked like dynamic sites. If your server access credentials are secure then there isn’t really a way for people to exploit static HTML.

Headless Content Management System

Think of a headless CMS as the backend (wp-admin) section of a WordPress site. A headless CMS is an administrative section that allows you to create content types, content, and more.

What a headless CMS doesn’t do is display that content to the public or concern itself with how that content should look when it is displayed (for the most part).

Pros of Headless Content Management Systems

  • Write Once Publish Everywhere – you can create content once and then pull that content into one or several locations. Websites, mobile apps, digital signage, are just a few sources that could source content from a headless CMS.
  • Frontend and Backend Technology Independence – as your frontend and backend are separate, they are both free to use whichever technology is wanted/required. This gives you more control and options for creating that slick frontend you’re looking for.
  • Improved Security – decoupling your backend content editor from the frontend of your site also reduces the ways that attackers could exploit your site. Your content management system is quite often hosted on an entirely different domain, making it harder for attackers to know where it is.

Putting Them Together – Static Site Generators + Headless CMS

Headless CMS + Static Site Generators and other possible consumers of Headless CMS content

Working together, you can create an amazingly fast site that is secure and independent of each other. You can have a backend that is completely tailored to the content creation and moderation requirements of your site.

At the same time, you can have a website that is completely independent of the technology requirements of your backend. If for some reason you want to drop one CMS in favor of another, you can. Doing so wouldn’t require you to completely rewrite all of your frontend templates to a completely different language to make it happen.

So what do static site generators and headless CMS stuff have to do with the future of WordPress?

Honestly, quite a bit. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

WordPress has always been great at adapting to the needs of the community. Evolving and improving itself through core features and community plugins.

This time, WordPress is evolving into a legitimate use as a Headless CMS.

Don’t worry, it will continue to be developed for and work as a standalone frontend + backend content management system. It’s just that it will also be useable as a headless CMS that a static site generator can be connected to for creating fast and secure frontends.

How is WordPress used a Headless CMS?

There have been methods for pulling content from a WordPress site for a long time. The most common way of doing so was through the REST API. This allowed you to grab content from your WordPress backend as JSON data which would then be interpreted by your frontend application or website.

The problem with this approach is that you are basically relying on the data that is made available through that different REST API. If you want to get a custom set of data then you may have to make several calls and then transform that data on the frontend. This can result in time-consuming development and increased database calls.

Improving WordPress Headless CMS Capabilities Through GraphQL

The more modern approach for pulling data out of most headless CMS platforms is through a new data query language developed by Facebook called GraphQL. GraphQL has advantages over REST API in that it can be used to pull out specific data from a data source through a single retrieval. This results in less data manipulation and transformation, which means faster development time and fewer database interactions.

At this time, the biggest effort for improving WordPress’s capabilities as a headless CMS through GraphQL has been with the plugin WP GraphQL. This awesome plugin was originally developed in an effort to make content syndication easier between a cluster of news sites. And while the work done to date has been amazing we are excited for the future of the plugin.

Jason Bahl, the creator of WP GraphQL, has stated that he will be joining the Gatsby ( a very popular static site generator ) team to focus on building the WP GraphQL plugin. That should mean more features being added to the plugin and even a stable official version 1 release for the plugin.

The Future of WordPress Looks Bright But Different

Don’t worry, WordPress isn’t going anywhere. It is already running a huge portion of the internet and that won’t completely change. However, it may still see a bit of a decline in the reported number of sites that are using it.

The reduction of reported WordPress usage will likely be due to a few factors.

  1. CMS competition has always been and will continue to be tough. It is easy to lose user base to systems and services that are able to do something as well or better than WordPress in certain business cases.
  2. WordPress will lose in the “reported” usage when it is used as a headless CMS. This is simply due to the fact that static sites don’t typically have the tell-tale signs of being a WordPress site. As a result, the site won’t be reported as a WordPress site even though it’s content might actually be generated from it.

Are you interested in using WordPress as a Headless CMS?

Take advantage of our free website review and consultation. We can walk you through how your old WordPress site can evolve into a headless CMS with an amazingly fast frontend.