Headless WordPress – the perfect Stack for 2023

Written by
Aleks Basara
Published on
19.3.2024

While there's some truth that discussing the best tech stack is often contrary to the good old “don't fix it if it ain't broke” approach, ensuring your websites are built on the best technological backbone possible is indeed essential. It is a much better idea to do your homework than to bail yourself out when you hit a wall after your tech stack became a significant bottleneck to your site's growth.

Tech stacks? Why not just use headless WordPress?

This is a much better question than it seems. While there are plenty of different options to build websites, with new ones being hyped daily, there are several reasons why headless WordPress powers almost half of the internet today. But it also has some flaws.

WordPress pros

Here's what makes WordPress great, even in 2023:

Open source: one of the biggest strengths of WordPress is the fact that it is open source. Plus, because it has been around since 2003 (20 years!!!), there are thousands of active contributors. Many advanced features that other website builders and CMSs charge are free on WordPress. Plus, WP developers are abundant, and tutorials and courses are everywhere – if something breaks down, you will get it resolved quickly and cheaply.

Plenty of customization options: the well-known ecosystem of WordPress consists of themes and plugins. Themes let you visually change the looks of your website, while plugins expand its features. Considering it has more than 50k free plugins, there's no feature you can think of that WordPress doesn't support.

Versatility: the sole fact WP powers almost half of the internet means it can support any website. WordPress has you covered, whether you need a simple one-page portfolio website or an eCommerce store with hundreds of products.

Frequent updates: a lively community and a dedicated support team ensure WordPress gets feature security and feature updates. In other words, you don't have to worry about it going out of fashion.

WordPress cons

While WordPress certainly is powerful, it does have some red flags:

Too many plugins = poor performance: while it is true that you can add any feature to your website simply by installing appropriate plugins, that comes at a cost – performance.

Tricky front-end customization: while there are plenty of page builders you can use for free, if you want total layout customization, it will be a struggle. Especially when you want to ensure everything looks how you want it on all screen sizes. There's always the option to leave things as-is, but this cookie-cutter approach is rarely the best if you would like to leave an impression.

Security and maintenance issues: being open-source means that each of the plugins and themes you use will likely come from different vendors. When you combine that with core updates, incompatibility and safety issues can arise unless you always keep an eye on things.

How to choose a tech stack


Technology Stacks

In short, a tech stack represents a collection of technologies (tools, programming languages, frameworks, etc.) that work in synergy to power up a website, app, or any digital product. In this case, the tech stack represents technology layers within a website. It consists of two sides, or “ends”:

Front-end: this is also known as the “client side,” and it is what the client sees when interacting with your website. They can access it via desktop or mobile browser, but also apps. It is important to ensure the client gets an optimal experience, no matter their device or platform. Front-end programming languages and technologies are HTML, CSS, JavaScript, React (Next.js, Remix.run)...

Back-end: also known as the “server side,” is only visible to you. This is where you create and edit content and where data is stored. Many technologies are used in the back-end, depending on your needs, with the most popular being PHP, Java, SQL, Python…

What to consider when choosing a tech stack


Project requirements

Which stack you should use will depend on various factors. Because every project has some distinct characteristics, you shouldn't rely on one-size-fits-all solutions, but always consider the best way to tackle what is in front of you, not what is popular.

Size and complexity

If you have a small project, and you don't plan to scale, there's no need why you should complicate things; simpler is better. But, if you already know you are about to start something massive, preplanning everything and ensuring nothing stands in the way of your growth is paramount.

Performance

You should always look to get maximal performance, no matter the project. But, this is especially important for larger websites and stores, as visitors are more likely to browse between several pages/products. If things are slow, they will get annoyed and leave without buying.

Security

Similarly to performance, you should do your best with security in general. However, if you collect sensitive customer information, or are processing payments, take extra steps to ensure website and app security is maximal.

Scalability and growth

Scalability issues are one of the significant and most common bottlenecks. Even portfolio websites can outgrow tech stacks if you decide to add more projects with interactive elements or run a blog. Consider future use cases when building, not just the current demand.

Future maintenance

While going for the latest technologies can mean good performance in the short term, if you don't choose carefully, you might shoot yourself in the foot eventually. Newer technologies will mean you can't expect the best developer availability, as people take time to adopt new knowledge.

Budget

Lastly, your budget is the most common limiting factor. If the money is tight, opting for open-source solutions that are well established will mean there will be plenty of technologies to use for free and also plenty of developers to contact. But, it will often mean less customizability and cutting-edge technologies on your website.

Popular web development stacks

Before I get to my recommendation for the best tech stack for 2023 and beyond, let's briefly describe some popular stacks and their acronyms you will see across the web:

MEAN

The MEAN stack consists of MongoDB, Express.js, Angular, and Node.js and is a popular eCommerce website tech stack. It is compatible with many platforms, and because it relies on JavaScript for both the front-end and the back-end, it won't be hard to find developers that can work with it. MEAN also has solid performance, which is another important thing for stores.

But MEAN is not perfect. Many components mean it can face issues with updates, and relying so heavily on JavaScript can bottleneck scalability.

WINS

The WINS stack comprises Windows, IIS, ASP.NET, SQL, and Visual Studio. As such, this stack is very powerful, allowing you to build highly customizable dynamic applications fully compatible with Windows. It offers terrific performance, and because it has plenty of integrated tools, it is pretty easy to operate and will reduce building costs.

As for the drawbacks, being Windows-based will limit development options, as you won't be able to use many other popular technologies, such as Python, hindering further scalability.

LAMP

The LAMP stack elements are Linux, APACHE, MySQL, and PHP. As such, the LAMP stack is incredibly cheap to run, as it relies on open-source technologies. Furthermore, it is an excellent option for expanding into other technologies, as it is fully compatible with Python, Ruby, and Perl.

But, LAMP is not perfect – relying heavily on Linux is not everyone's cup of tea, and MySQL's relational nature can hinder flexibility. Plus, expanding it with other technologies, although a possibility, is not always the right move.

MERN

Combine MongoDB, ExpressJS, ReactJS, and NodeJS, and you get MERN, a very easy-to-manage, highly flexible, full JavaScript-based set of technologies capable of using the latest cloud platforms.

But, the source of its simplicity, JavaScript, is also MERN's central issue – it is not designed for super large applications. Plus, having all eggs in a single basket means it is effortless to hit a wall regarding security and performance, again, as everything relies on JavaScript.

LEMP

Linux + Nginx + MariaDB + PHP = LEMP. It is easy to notice that it only replaces Apache with Nginx and MySQL with MariaDB, which made LAMP. The key benefit of these replacements is improved scalability and performance while simultaneously cutting costs, as both additions are open-source.

The drawbacks of LEMP are that it can be problematic to integrate with other technologies, as it relies on its only four components. Plus, because it is a relatively new name, you will find fewer capable LEMP developers, upping maintenance costs and creating potential problems.

Python/Django

Python/Django is a full-stack solution that is combined with a database such as MySQL or SQLite. The combo is capable; you get a solid back-end with a great-looking and modern front-end. This is a flexible and scalable stack with good security.

Although capable and secure, the main drawback of Django is its complexity. This will make uncovering and solving potential problems very hard, as it has a steep learning curve. It can also mean diminished performance as your site grows if your developers are not up for the task.

JAMstack

Last on the list is one of my favorites, the JAMstack – JavaScript, APIs, and Markup. This type of architecture is a modern way to create flexible, cross-platform websites and apps. It also ensures maximal performance, excellent security, and cost-effective development.

But not even JAMstack is perfect. Being new means you will have fewer resources to solve problems on your own and not that many knowledgeable JAMstack developers. Moreover, static sites can mean limited flexibility, depending on your use case, which is why it makes sense to consult an JAMstack expert.

Headless WordPress + JAMstack – The 2023 way

As you can see, every website stack we listed has some obvious benefits, but also flaws that are hard to ignore. But, in my opinion, taking a more nuanced and highly customizable solution might provide a near-perfect website stack that can cover various use cases. Here's how it looks:

WordPress + ACF + Yoast

The back-end backbone of my stack is the O.G. CMS, the one and only WordPress. The sole fact you can expand its feature set easily without having to know 65 programming languages makes it a no-brainer. Plus, it is field-tested and powers half of the internet for two decades for a good reason – it just works.

But, what is not that well-known is that WordPress can go “headless.” It can work with APIs to provide the front end, while you use the good old and familiar WP for the back end content management. This unlocks an enormous number of possibilities.

  • Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) will put a lot of firepower in your hands, simultaneously replacing dozens of other plugins, which means better performance.
  • YoastSEO is the gold standard for SEO plugins and needs no further explanation – it will help you optimize your site rankings.

Cloudinary DAM

Cloudinary digital asset management is a cloud-based multimedia management solution, ideal for accessing your digital files across multiple devices. It is mighty and will ensure each user gets an optimal experience, meaning the best quality and maximal performance.

WP Engine – headless WordPress hosting

WP Engine is a managed hosting platform dedicated and optimized for headless WordPress websites. It is not the cheapest solution, but it is the best if you prioritize having a secure and top-performing WP website.

Firebase for fancy features

Adding Google's Firebase SDK to your front-end application will unlock many advanced features that will turn your headless WordPress website into a fully customizable powerhouse. This will enable multifactor authentication, cloud functions, advanced analytics, user blocking, sign-ins, remote config, and more. In other word, you can build a full-fledged application on top of your headless WordPress website.

Uniform.dev DXP composition

UniformDev DXP composition is a digital experience platform ideal for creating optimal user experiences for any device they use. Users will see a version of your site/app meant for their device, instead of the usual one-size-fits-all solutions.

GatsbyJS – headless WordPress front-end

GatsbyJS is built upon on React and GraphQL to generate high-performance and security static sites. Plus, Gatsby is straightforward to expand with more APIs and is loved by developers as it is an intuitive and easy-to-use environment, making it an automatic choice for the front-end of a headless WordPress stack.

Tailwind CSS components

Tailwind CSS components will significantly accelerate the user interfae de process of the apps and headless WordPress websites you create. There are many useful and pre-built cards, buttons, forms, grids, and full layouts you can easily and quickly customize to your liking.

Netlify hosting

For the headless WordPress, you rely on WP Engine, but the best option for its front is Netlify. The best-of-breed hosting company specializes in web application hosting, guaranteeing the best performance regardless of what platform or OS visitors use.

Bottom line

After all this stack talk, it all comes to one thing – your project needs. That is the only thing that should determine which technology will support it. Not the latest trends, newest technologies, or opinions.

However, the stack I suggested as the near-perfect website stack for 2023 is a flexible solution that can meet a broad spectrum of needs. Moreover, it is based on old-school tech like WordPress, combined with a whole new, headless WordPress approach, giving your web presence the best of both worlds.

FAQ

What is a tech stack?

A tech stack is the technological backbone of your website and represents a compilation of several technologies that work together to produce the desired results. It includes frameworks, databases, programming languages, and other developer tools.

How do I choose the right stack?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but the tech stack you choose will depend on the following:

  • Project description
  • Scalability
  • Security
  • Future maintenance
  • Budget

What is the most used tech stack?

This is hard to determine, as the surveys always have a limited number of participants, but among the most widely used tech stacks are certainly:

  • MEAN
  • MERN
  • LAMP
  • Python/Django

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