We Discuss Headless WordPress The Myths & Truths

#1 – Can you give some background on Strattic and why it was developed?

#2 – There seems to be a lot of confusion connected to what is and what it is best at connected to headless WordPress would you agree with this statement?

#3 – What are some of. your own thoughts connected to how the larger WordPress ecosystem is doing at the present moment and what some of the challenges it is facing?

#4 – What have been some of the biggest problems that Strattic has faced in its history?

#5 – Can you give some advice connected to anybody who is considering building a theme or semi-commercial plugin connected to the WordPress ecosystem?

#6 – Full website editing is coming this week to WordPress have you some insights or thought connected to a large change to the WordPress platform?

Here is The Full Transcript of Our Great Interview with Miriam Schwab Co-founder Strattic

got so many and like the resources are being divided among them, none of them is great, like for the content creators. So I came to the conclusion that WordPress is still the best in class in terms of content management systems. But I was inspired by this movement to think, well, what if we turn WordPress into a static site generator, and then you get the best of both worlds.

You use WordPress as usual, you get to use all the plugins, you can use page builders, your content team doesn’t have to learn new tooling. They don’t have friction to do their work. They can still use their power tool, which is WordPress. They click a button and it generates a static replica of the site. It looks exactly like the WordPress site, it feels like it acts like it. The functionality is the same, et cetera, but there’s no underlying processing server. All the pages are pre-rendered. It can be fully served up through a content delivery network, which we do on Strattic, for our users. And so it removes a ton of the headache around the ongoing maintenance of WordPress sites. So, that’s where the idea came from.

Steven Sauder: That’s awesome. So it’s really taking, as the strong points of WordPress and the strong points of the custom site that’s not WordPress. And kind of taking both of those good things and putting ’em together so you can use WordPress and you don’t have to be saddled with a lot of the negative aspects of WordPress. 

Miriam Schwab: Exactly. Yeah. That’s exactly it. And, and the idea is that you get all of that, pretty easily, like literally our users just have to click a button on the WordPress admin, and everyone can click a button.

Steven Sauder: Just dissecting that a little bit more, like getting to the security side of things, you have to be able to log into your WordPress back-end somehow, and there’s still a database somewhere. How, do you separate the two? Like how do you have a front-end site that is decoupled from that back-end admin dashboard grading post?

Miriam Schwab: That’s a very good question. So our platform is end to end. So that means that we also, host the WordPress site. And the way that we do that is in a pretty unique way. Every site is in its own isolated containerized environment. And it is only accessible to people who have permission to access it. You have to go through our Strattic authentication in order to access the site. And then, you can make changes to that site. When the site is not in use, it shuts down. So that’s another layer of security around it. And then all of the communication from the WordPress site to the static site is one-directional. The WordPress site is this point of truth. You make all your changes there, you click a button, it deploys, those changes into the static replica, but that static replica never ever communicates back with the WordPress site. That also is for security reasons.

In the world of headless WordPress deployments, the way, the conventional types of sites work, if you can call conventional because it’s also pretty new. Is that the WordPress backend or admin is always alive, always up, and always communicating with the front end. And the front end is requesting information through APIs, from the backend. That gives a lot of flexibility, but it means that that backend is still a potential point to failure. It can still actually be DDOSed, depending on how you protect it or how good you are protecting it. And, what’s a growing threat in the security realm is actually API vulnerabilities and API, hacks. So as long as you’ve got this, like thing, this entity that’s there that’s like feeding information. It’s got potential for issues.

So we fully decouple it which gives like ultimate security. It does create challenges because it means that instead of us being able to depend on the WordPress backend for certain types of functionality, what we’ve done is we’ve recreated functionality on the edge. Strattic runs on AWS, Amazon web services. So we’ll utilize, lambda edge Lambda functions for that type of functionality. Whereas we could have gone the easy route of just kind of, looking back to the WordPress site, we chose not to, for the security. I think we made the right choice, but I’m just saying that it was like, not, it didn’t make life easier for us, because we did have to do that. So that’s around the security of the Strattic.

Steven Sauder: Cool. How do you handle that interaction? You were talking about Like Lambda functions and stuff, but, just like in layman’s terms, like I have a form and somebody sends something on the form and appears in my back end, and that’s how I know to reply to somebody like we’re talking about, decoupling and stuff. What happens to my form, or even like taking that further, what happens to an e-commerce store? Can you even do that on something more dynamic like that?

Miriam Schwab: Yeah, that’s a very good question. So one of our first, goals when we started building the product, okay, the first goal was to generate a perfect static replica of the site. that in and of itself is actually not easy, to make sure that you don’t crash the original server, make sure they capture everything that you need to capture, et cetera, et cetera. Okay, fine, done, check. Next goal. Identify common types of dynamic functionality that don’t work on a static site and replicate that, on a static site. So the most common examples are forms, search, and then the things like 3 0 1 redirect and things like that that generally need to access, database. Multi-language like WPML sites and Polylang things like that. 

So as we started onboarding customers, we learned from them, what are more common needs if we saw something that kept repeating itself, then, we would learn from that and prioritize that in our product development. Plus we would combine that with our experience in the agency, after building, I don’t even know how many sites over 13 years you learn a thing or two about how people use WordPress sites. So that knowledge was very helpful to us in terms of also prioritizing. So right away, we knew like for forms, for example, that we were going to support contact form seven and gravity forms. I’m a huge fan of gravity forms. We use that at the agency, and it also happens to be that a lot of people use contact form seven. So we created initial support for contact form seven was relatively easy, it’s pretty basic. Contact form seven has a ton of functionality. And so we’ve read a few versions of our support for it, but now we support almost everything that gravity form sets.

So if you have conditional fields, you can still build your form on your WordPress site, using gravity forms, as usual, you don’t have to change that. You can use conditional fields, you can say, if someone says, I wanna click support, send a notification to, like all that kind of stuff. All our users have to do is click the button. And then we replicate that functionality, on the static site. And then also if someone submits the gravity forms form, it feeds it back into the WordPress database through symmetric, and then it sends it there. Yeah. So, now we also support Elementor forms. Why? Because more and more of our users were using Elementor and then once they’re using Elementor, they’re just gonna use their forms, which makes sense. And so we needed to make sure that we supported that as well. So done. 

Search, what happens with search is if someone has like the WordPress search when they click publish, we automatically, generate, a search index in a tool called Algolia it’s the best, search product out there. And we replace the form with a function that calls that index. And so our users get a search that not only works, but it’s actually better quality than the native WordPress search and then 3 0 1 redirects we implemented support for and Multilanguage, and like, we have a whole list of stuff on our site that we support. And we always like got our ears to the ground, listening to what our customers are saying, what’s a challenge, things like that. And trying to prioritize around the,

Jonathan Denwood: We need to go for our break Steven

Steven Sauder: Oh yeah. Sorry, sucked into the conversation here. We’re gonna head for our break and we’ll be right back.

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Steven Sauder:  All right. Coming back, from our break. If you have the time head over to the WP tonic, mastermind, Facebook group, and check it out, you can learn a lot by following and engaging in the conversation over there. You can also catch the live streams, as well as posts from our YouTube channel. So head over to Facebook and join the WP-Tonic mastermind Facebook group. All right, John, do you have any questions here? I’ve been kinda dominating the conversation? 

Jonathan Denwood: Well, I knew this would be your cup of tea, Steven. Be that Steven is obsessed with website performance. So I knew he would be, delighted with this conversation. Miriam, I sense, in some ways you’re a bit like WP-Tonic because I see WP-Tonic, what we offer as a hybrid and, WordPress is dominated by plugin companies and, and hosting companies, some very large ones, extremely large ones. What you are doing isn’t– plugin themes hosting they are the people that dominate WordPress, aren’t they? Theme shops they’ve declined a bit because of page builders, plugins, and hosting providers, but you are providing a hybrid really that’s how I see it. What WP-Tonic offers to our clients is a hybrid. So you’re not fully a SaaS so you’re not Wix and you’re not Squarespace, but you also don’t fit into the classical plugin or hosting provider. Do you think that’s been a bit of a problem? And have you come to any rationality about how you’ve overcome that, or is it just an ongoing process? It’s just part of a challenge that you have to consistently overcome.

Miriam Schwab: That’s a very insightful question. I don’t hear that outside of Strattic very much, but inside of Strattic, we definitely talk about this and think about this. The way I describe us is that we’re a company that happens to also do hosting. We’re not a classic hosting company. You don’t put your site on a server and we’re like, okay, now the world can see it. We re-architect your site. So that is not a standard hosting company approach at all. So, that’s why I say we’re a company that happens also to be in hosting. And we’re not like a SaaS closed garden type of company. And this part of our philosophy, I guess, around it, which is that we don’t want to limit users by, in what they can do. And that’s the beauty of WordPress with WordPress, the opportunities and the possibilities are, endless.

Yeah. You should probably draw a line somewhere and not turn it into like a full-fledged. I don’t know what Facebook is, but you really can take it far. And our users should be able to take it far. And we want to be able to continuously support that and as much as possible, never say no. And if we say, no, it’s not, no, it’s like how about, instead of that, just do it this way, but keep doing– you be you. So, it’s different. And, we had to consider from the start, whether we called ourselves, like whether we used hosting even in our messaging, because, we didn’t want to be compared as apples to hosting companies. And, hosting is, really not like sexy, nobody is excited to be like the next hosting company. 

Jonathan Denwood: Well, It’s very profitable if you get it right, isn’t it?

Miriam Schwab: Very profitable. But, also we’re a venture-backed company. We went the startup route. And so we also need to be appealing to investors. It’s like, when you are running a venture back company, you essentially have two audiences, and investors don’t always like to think of them themselves this way, but you also have to, in a way, like sell to them, you have to speak the language like them. So hosting was like, who wants to, that’s what I’m saying. But we realize that if we don’t use the word hosting, people won’t understand what we do. And even, so when we say headless and static hosting platform, we very often get the question. So do you replace my current hosting? The answer is of course, yes, but I totally get why that’s not clear. So that was challenging around the messaging, through trial and error and just like understanding who our user base is at this point in time, we came to the conclusion that we call ourselves a headless and static hosting for WordPress kind of thing.

The most challenging thing around our messaging though was coming to the conclusion that we’re going to use the terminology headless and static because we debated. In marketing 1 0 1 kind of thing, you’re always taught don’t talk about the features, talk about the benefits. What is it that, the hammer and the nail, the hammer, the feature is that it gets the nails into the wall or whatever that metaphor is? And so nobody theoretically wants to know about, how you’re doing it or what, it is, but what the benefit is that they’ll get. So in our case, what’s the benefit that they get security civility, speed, peace of mind, actually, we’ve learned also, like I don’t have to think about that anymore.

But then we just sound like every other hosting company, because we go to any other hosting company’s website. They’re also talking about how they’re pure, fast, performant, and scalable. So then, and what do we say for real?  That’s not persuasive. So we came to the conclusion that we are going to, just be very straightforward about how we do it, because for the audience that this will speak to at this point in time, and, I’ll explain why I keep saying point in time. That going to totally tell them what the benefit is by saying your site will now be running in a headless and static format in one click. Then the persona that we’re talking about right now is like, oh, that is totally something I want. And I totally understand why that is the most secure, most resilient, most whatever way of running a site. I would explain the point of time thing. Yeah.

Jonathan Denwood: As you were saying, that would I be correct that you are kind of aiming it at the kind of WP engine crowd that kind of quasar developer agent/agency hiring a freelancer or a technical somebody in a company that knows that they need quality hosting might be a little bit more expensive. Somebody that’s looking at WP engine, or Kinsta rather than one of the larger providers that may be not so specialized around WordPress I’m, struggling to be diplomatic here Miriam.

Miriam Schwab: Totally hear that. So our, target, persona and target, let’s say organization or company, I’ll start from the basics, which is that they are, an organization or company where their website is important to them. Like it matters to them from a business perspective, it contributes to their marketing efforts, their sales effort, their bottom line, their brand, and they care about it and they’re already investing in it. 

So once I’ve said that what it means is if they’re already investing in, it means that they’re generally using platforms and tooling that maybe are more premium. And so, they will often already be hosting on one of the more premium hosting providers. What we do see a lot is that those types of companies are also often hosting within their own cloud platforms. Like, we’ve had people come from Azure, AWS, Google cloud, less Google cloud, because WordPress on Google  Cloud is a little bit problematic, but let’s say AWS [inaudible26:27 ] instances and things like that. So yeah, so that’s who we’re targeting. And then they, tend to like overlap with those types of companies. Yeah.

Jonathan Denwood: Well, thanks for that.

Steven Sauder: That makes sense. Right. Should, we head to, bonus content now, Jonathan?

Jonathan Denwood: Yes.  That’d be great. It’s been a fantastic con you’re okay being with us another 10, 15 minutes. Are you okay with that Miriam?

Miriam Schwab: What is bonus content?

Steven Sauder: Bonus content, you gotta go to the YouTube channel to check it out.

Miriam Schwab: Okay. I’ll Well, I’m happy.

Steven Sauder: Awesome. Well, that wraps up the show for today, everyone. As you heard us talking about bonus content, tune in to the bonus content, head over to the YouTube channel and you can watch the full interview. We’ll be getting into, where WordPress is going Gutenberg and how that affects, page speed and, static page generation. Thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you all next week. Bye.

Outro: Thanks for listening to the WP-Tonic podcast, the podcast that gives you a dose of WordPress medicine twice a week.

Learn more about Miriam Schwab & Stratton here:

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