Is it Time Your Agency Considered an Alternative to WordPress?
Many web development agencies offer WordPress as their default CMS option. As this blog argues, it is time to diversify. Growing demand for features that WordPress can’t easily deliver means that Headless is exploding as a category. It is time for your agency to offer it as a choice.
Co-Founder / CEO
August 1, 2023
The Agency Dilemma - It is Time to Consider an Alternative to WordPress?
[Part of the Demystifying Headless series]
When it comes to web development, agencies have a decision to make as to which Content Management System(s) they will work with. Depending on size, experience, and focus it may be that the agency is in a position to offer several options. For smaller agencies, who serve a broad range of clients, WordPress and Shopify will likely feature, but beyond that the options may be limited. However, as this blog will argue, it is time to start offering a Headless CMS solution also.
Agencies and Content Management Systems
When it comes to Web Development agencies (small or large) it is common to offer a suite of services. After all, a website is more than just the initial website development. It includes everything from design to copywriting to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). However, underpinning everything is the Content Management System (CMS) - the system that is used to build and maintain the website.
Historically, traditional monolithic CMS like WordPress have been to the fore. They first emerged around 20 years ago as a new approach to publishing and managing web content. As a free and open-source offering, WordPress has been an unparalleled success, powering an estimated 40% plus of all websites on the internet (Source: W3Techs). However, it is now time for agencies to add a Headless CMS into the mix.
The Popularity of WordPress
Given its dominance, is it any wonder that web agencies piled in behind it, creating a huge ecosystem of WordPress champions further cementing its success? The attractions for agencies were obvious:
A huge WordPress developer community provided access to qualified developers
A significant community and ecosystem to support you
An attractive commercial model including a monthly maintenance retainer in many instances
Suitability for use across swathes of use cases and industry sectors
A brand name clients will have heard of
In short, WordPress offered significant benefits over and above choosing an alternative solution and thus it represents a stable offering in a significant portion of web development agencies. However, twenty years down the line it is struggling to meet the needs of more complex growth-oriented websites.
Issues with WordPress
Over time, a second camp of developers has emerged - those who are simply not fans of WordPress. They feel that 20 years after it first emerged that it is no longer fit-for-purpose in certain use cases. And this is a crucial point. Decisions as to which CMS to choose are largely context-dependent. It depends on what you are looking to achieve, and what your unique circumstances are. WordPress is still a viable option for certain situations. Perhaps the client is familiar with WordPress, has a basic site, and is happy to pay a monthly retainer.
However, when viewed through the lens of the requirements of a business or commercial site, with growth aspirations, the ever-expanding list of issues with WordPress is increasingly a significant problem and some clients are beginning to push back. “Anything except WordPress” is a common refrain.
Issues with WordPress include the following:
1- Performance Issue
Website bloat can become a common occurrence for sites as they mature and it becomes difficult to get page load under 1 second
2- Usability Issues
While some will argue that the interface familiarity is an advantage, I’d argue most marketing teams find the admin difficult to use (especially when faced with an array of out-of-date plugins)
3- Security Vulnerabilities
Again as sites mature it is common for users to be faced with an array of Plugins in need of updates, when the provenance of the plugin is often uncertain (some are a known source of security issues)
4- Maintenance Costs
One thing I know that frustrates clients - is when they perceive WordPress as a quick and cheap approach and then find they need to engage someone on a monthly ‘maintenance retainer’ to help ensure nothing breaks.
5- Plugin Dependency
The rich Plugin ecosystem is designed to extend the core functionality of WordPress. However, it can also be problematic as mentioned above, especially for maturer sites where over the years numerous plugins have been added and it is not always clear as to who added them, for what purpose, and what will happen if they are updated or removed.
In short, while it makes sense to continue to offer WordPress, a growing number of agencies are offering an alternative. Is it time your agency considered it also?
The Emergence of Modern Content Management Systems
In recent years, we’ve seen an explosion in the number of Content Management Systems (CMS) on the market ranging from entry-level website builders like Squarespace and Wix through to Webflow (better suited to developer-built sites) through to Headless. While the array of options could appear overwhelming, it is possible to quickly narrow the selection down based on where you are on your journey. For simplicity, I’m assuming a business website (excl ecommerce). In your formative years, a website builder like Squarespace or Wix will be perfect to get you up and running. As the site matures and becomes more complicated you may consider Webflow, or jump straight to Headless. For this piece, we’ll explore a common path - upgrading your website to a Headless CMS.
Introduction to Headless
The curiously named category of Headless [What is a Headless CMS?] has emerged in recent years (primarily driven by early adopters in the dev community). It represents a different approach to managing and maintaining websites whereby the front end and the back end are decoupled. Instead of logging into one system where you can manage and maintain content, as well as make design changes simultaneously, there is a separation. The Headless CMS is actually the back end acting as a content repository where structured content is made available via API’s. It is a form of task specialization whereby your marketing team (or content team) can focus on managing and maintaining the content, whereas your designers and front-end developers can stay focused on the front-end design. So what is the big deal? Why move away from an all-in-one monolithic setup?
There is a mix of push and pull drivers. As highlighted above there is a growing list of concerns with the dominant player in the market - WordPress. As a result, there is increased pushback against its use from the more informed CMOs/ CTOs. It is worth noting that some marketing leaders will outsource the CMS choice to the CTO or the agency, whereas others will be more likely to say “no to WordPress” but may be open to other suggestions.
The benefits of a Headless CMS are well matched to growing business websites where the requirements are more sophisticated than an entry-level solution.
1- Highly Performant Architecture
As a Headless CMS is paired with a Static Site Generator (SSG) and Content Delivery Network (CDN) you can create a blazingly quick site which is important for high-traffic sites where improved conversion rates are a crucial element. As speed is also a ranking factor for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) this benefit alone offers significant value.
2- More Flexible and Scalable Approach
Unlike a more constrained monolithic approach, a Headless CMS-oriented approach enables you to select from a range of best-of-breed solutions as you see fit. Built to scale.
3- Create a Beautifully Designed Site
The starting point for many monolithic sites is picking a theme, whereas, with a Headless CMS, you are giving free rein to your designers to create a highly performance site with pixel-perfect design. Full design freedom.
4- Security is Enhanced
WordPress gets a bad reputation due to known vulnerabilities (especially via plugins) but it is also a consequence of its success and dominance. However, with a Headless setup your attack surface is reduced and any issues with one part of the setup won’t affect another. That all said - human error is the cause of most security breaches and thus good training, and well-designed protocols will ensure that this alleged benefit is indeed a real one.
5- Future Proof
The content separation means you can redesign / reskin your site while leaving the content in situ. You can also take comfort from the fact you are using the latest cutting-edge technologies to help you stay ahead of the curve.
Contento - Not Another CMS?
So what is Contento and how does it differ from other Headless CMS?
Contento is a modern Content Management System (CMS) optimized for marketing websites and SaaS/ Tech companies.
Contento offers the perfect balance of simple content management paired with powerful content modeling - loved by both the content team and the devs. Unlike some of our competitors who aggressively ramp pricing between tiers, we offer a straightforward pricing structure that is not designed to price gouge. We also bake in key features like SEO, and a “live preview” capability across all product tiers enabling all clients to access core features. Reusable content blocks also help to speed up page build times enabling the marketing team to optimize workflows independent of developers.
When it comes to agencies, we offer an attractive package including free licenses, dedicated support, and significant recurring revenue.
So if you’d like to evaluate Headless as something to add to your toolkit, Contento represents a viable option. For sure, there are other better-known providers, however, as any research will illustrate there are some known issues that can negatively impact the client-agency relationship, not least the evidence of price gouging by some. As a newer entrant to the market, Contento offers free licenses for Proof of Concepts (POCs) as well as generous recurring revenue streams for our initial cohort of agency partners. To learn more about our agency offering simply get in touch with us.
The Agency Dilemma
In short, the dilemma here is to assess whether Headless is a fad or a paradigm shift. As I contend above, Headless is here to stay and agencies are recommended to get ahead of the curve and to learn about Headless. I’ll leave the last word on this to Kaya Ismail from DXP360:
Many digital agencies have only ever known one or two legacy CMS platforms. As some legacy systems attempt to pivot into composability, those same agencies have been placed at a crossroads. Their enterprise clients are asking questions.
Does the legacy system have a long-term future? Should they continue to pour money into migrating into a CMS that the vendor itself seems unsure about?
Those aren’t easy questions to answer.
In response, agencies are taking action. They’re exploring headless CMS and composable CMS platforms and experimenting with them with smaller pilot projects.
Just to test the waters.
This is essentially a hedge against what seems to be a crumbling legacy ecosystem. But I think this is slowly becoming a fully-fledged policy of “it’s time to get serious about composability”.
So the agency isn't totally blindsided when the next enterprise walks through the door asking about MACH and composable (which they have started to do).
Now, the agency has some experience. Some confidence and authority to suggest a headless CMS rather than their age-old legacy partner.
— Source: Kaya Ismail (DXP360)
In short, agencies face a stick or twist dilemma - do they stick with the tried and trusted - offering WordPress as their primary CMS, or do they offer a choice? It is clear that choice comes at a cost - but a short-term pain can help ensure your agency's future is on a more stable footing.