When it comes to building a website that needs a CMS in 2022, there are a few options out there, but the go-to for many has been WordPress for a long time. While it is a very powerful tool, a new way of making websites is on the rise: Jamstack architecture plus a headless CMS.
In this post, we'll cover everything you need to know about why and when you should utilize the newer Jamstack ecosystem over the traditional WordPress approach, along with the benefits it brings to your website and your business.
Note: Here we’re comparing a traditional implementation of WordPress with the Jamstack plus headless CMS approach. It’s possible to also take a headless approach using WordPress’s REST API, but that does not alleviate all of the challenges that WordPress brings.
What is WordPress?
In short, WordPress is a Content Management System (CMS) that allows people to create a wide variety of websites from blogs and marketing websites to shops, forums, and more, all thanks to its plugin and theme ecosystem. Due to the prevalence of traditional WordPress implementations (roughly a 1/3 of all websites use it), there is a thriving community around it meaning if there’s something you want, you probably aren’t alone and a plugin or theme already exists for it. However, the architecture of this theme and plugin ecosystem significantly impacts much more than the content of the site and can introduce a variety of challenges for website owners.
What is the Jamstack?
Jamstack is a newer way of building websites that has been growing in popularity over the last few years. Where WordPress is a traditional CMS platform, Jamstack is an architectural approach to building websites that lets us combine multiple platforms and services for optimal performance and security, bringing the CMS functionality in through a service.
With Jamstack, there’s very little directly coupled to your website’s code; instead, services and functionality can be added via external APIs that have been designed to be decoupled from the start. This means that unlike WordPress’s plugins, which can often have unintended, far-reaching side-effects on other areas of your website, Jamstack sites are more resilient to changes and encourage more agile ways of working on your website.
What does “headless CMS” mean?
Most importantly, Jamstack allows us to utilize API-based CMS services, like Prismic, which are called “headless” because they separate the CMS from the front-end code. This separation enables developers to implement optimized technologies, rather than being committed to the CMS’ front-end approach. Headless CMSs allow you to deploy your site around the world on a CDN, which means that users will load your content more quickly than most traditional WordPress sites.
Meanwhile, because the CMS is a service, it allows companies like Prismic to do the work of implementing innovations like shifting from being simply a “headless CMS” to delivering a “headless website builder.” When developers use Prismic, they’re able to create Slices, or reusable website sections, that give content teams a custom website builder experience.
Advantages of Jamstack over WordPress
In this section, we’re going to look at some of the ways Jamstack can be more advantageous to your website and your business overall compared to WordPress.
Static generation vs. server-side rendering
WordPress needs a constantly running server to handle incoming requests for pages from users, data processing, and more. Essentially, with WordPress, when a user requests a page, the request gets sent to the server for processing, WordPress then finds the page, renders it, and sends it back to the user to be displayed. This can be a time-consuming and resource-intensive process.
But, with Jamstack, you utilize static site generators (SSGs), which allow you to build all of your pages before they’re loaded to your server and any users request a page. That means when a user requests a page, the already rendered page can be sent back to the user straight away, cutting out an entire step of the process WordPress uses.
This sounds like a small difference but in reality, this leads to benefits in security, performance, SEO, and more, as we will explore in more detail in the next few sections.
More optimized security
Because Jamstack is static by nature it means a lot of the moving parts traditionally found in a WordPress website are not required or present. This means fewer server updates and security risks for your developers to handle.
Another security benefit of utilizing Jamstack’s static files is that they allow for read-only hosting, meaning possible attacks on your website are further reduced because there are no live interactions with the server, just the reading of static files, which is inherently more secure.
Jamstack websites allow you to consume dynamic tools/services provided by other companies and vendors that have dedicated teams of people for ensuring their security and support, meaning you can have a static website with dynamic functionality as and when you need it, rather than all the time.
All in all, this means you can spend less time worrying about the security of a service’s integration on your website and instead focus on expanding and growing your website.
Because Jamstack websites can utilize static generation, as mentioned before, they’re inherently faster for users because the pages are already assembled and ready to serve. Static generation also means you can easily host your website as close to your users as possible without the complicated and expensive server configurations required with WordPress. This offers an incredible speed boost to your website because now your website is located, not just in one location but around the globe so regardless of where your users are located they can access your website quickly.
And the benefits of a faster website can’t be stated enough; Google says that the Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) should happen in less than 2.5 seconds, anything longer than this, and it will negatively impact your Core Web Vitals score and by extension your possible ranking on Google.
Couple the faster page load times with Jamstack’s static pages, which make it easier for search engine crawlers to traverse their content and your website is getting an SEO boost just by using the Jamstack.
But, outside of SEO, page speed can impact other metrics. Users in the digital world we live in, expect lighting quick websites; how often have you left a website because it didn’t load quickly enough? How quickly your pages load can directly impact the conversion rates your site is capable of.
The benefits of a faster website can't be stated enough. It helps you rank better in search engines and convert more users.
So, while a business might not directly care about their website using static-site generation or being hosted around the world, they will very much care about the performance benefits that Jamstack websites can bring. Faster loading times have a direct impact on SEO as well as user experience and satisfaction. And, these topics can have a very real impact on a business’s bottom line.
With WordPress, its maintenance can be a major challenge. WordPress’s theme and plugin ecosystem is both a blessing and a curse because, while it lets you stand up and deploy websites quickly, the more complicated a website becomes the more likely you are to face plugin conflicts and compatibility issues between themes, plugins, and WordPress itself.
Over time this can lead to developers being tied into resolving plugin conflicts/issues and not working on new features, concepts, and ideas to grow your business.
In contrast, another benefit of utilizing Jamstack websites is reducing the maintenance requirements of the website dramatically. With Jamstack once the website is built successfully and stable, it can be deployed and little ongoing maintenance is required from developers. Once it’s built and deployed, it can pretty much be left on its own.
Instead, developers can spend less time focusing on maintenance activities and spend more time on optimizations and improvements that will create more value and benefits for your businesses and their customers.
Lower long-term costs
For personal or freelance-built sites, Jamstack hosting is cheap (or free in many cases) because static file serving is extremely economical. Hosts like Netlify, Vercel, and Digital Ocean are, for the most part, just serving small HTML, CSS, and JS files, not fully featured databases and long-running application servers.
I’ve personally not had to pay a penny to host my website for the last 2 years using Jamstack. But, when I’ve used WordPress in the past, I had to pay for monthly server packages to host the website 24/7.
Now, it’s worth noting that larger teams building may encounter pricing plans that can increase costs quickly.
Jamstack websites are also typically more expensive to set up than WordPress sites. Typically, Jamstack sites are completely bespoke to a business and their needs, while WordPress websites have a vast ecosystem of themes and plugins to lean on for a cheaper and faster start-up.
So, yes, you spend more time and money upfront on a Jamstack site, but it can be recouped over time with lower recurring costs. And unlike WordPress, Jamstack costs don’t directly scale with more website traffic like many WordPress server hosting fees and plugin costs do.
Flexible content sharing and reusability
One large pain point for WordPress is content sharing and reusability.
A lot of businesses have a website and mobile applications to appeal to various users. But, with WordPress, to move the content from the website to a mobile app, you need to painstakingly copy and paste the content from one to the other. Want to do content updates? Or correct an error? You have to do it multiple times.
This is all because the code and content in WordPress are so tightly coupled together; splitting the content out of the code of the website can be a massive pain, wasting time and money.
But, it doesn’t need to be like this...
Because Jamstack is built to be flexible, tools like headless CMSs let you can reuse the same content in multiple locations without needing to duplicate it. Want to have the same content on the website and mobile apps? That’s fine, just configure both to pull content from a headless CMS, and you’re done.
No more is your content coupled to your website, Jamstack breaks this link and frees you up to reuse and share your content in new ways without needing to duplicate it and maintain multiple copies, wasting time and money in the process.
When to choose Jamstack plus a headless CMS
Now, with the advantages of Jamstack covered, let’s take a closer look at some examples of how you could use Jamstack in real-world scenarios and see why Jamstack is well suited to them.
Blog and marketing websites
Blogs and marketing websites are what I would define as the perfect use cases for Jamstack websites with a headless CMS; in the vast majority (if not all) cases they can be statically generated with ease and hosted on CDNs inexpensively (or free in many cases). Even better, optimized performance will lead to an improvement in the all-important SEO metrics that content teams working on these types of websites focus on.
Overall for these types of websites, Jamstack lets you focus on their most important functionality: creating the content for them and growing your business.
If you are thinking of building a blog/marketing website using Jamstack, then it’s likely to need even more than a headless CMS to power it and deliver the content for the website. A headless website builder is even more empowering for content teams, and a Jamstack architecture makes it easy to incorporate into your project.
Prismic lets you ship a custom website builder effortlessly with Slices. In essence, Slices give non-developers the ability to build out the organization and content of their website, while your decoupled code helps them ensure that the end product is high-quality, doesn’t break, and aligns consistently with the brand.
E-commerce websites have always been one of the most complex types of websites to build, maintain, and support over time. But, Jamstack even makes these websites easy to build and maintain.
Because services, like Stripe and Shopify, provide APIs designed for Jamstack sites, your website doesn’t need to handle bank details, payment processing, verifying information, detecting potential fraudulent users, or any of the other complicated or expensive parts of running an eCommerce website.
Instead, we can let the experts handle all this while we just focus on building a website that helps our end users grow their businesses.
In summary, by adopting the Jamstack with a headless CMS instead of WordPress for your website and business, you can spend less time and money on maintaining, fixing, and worrying about whether your website functions, and instead spend time on growing, building, and bringing success to businesses.
Using the Jamstack to build websites is becoming increasingly common and the ecosystem is always growing with new services, companies, and products adopting it, so the reasons for not using it are shrinking. When will you embrace it?