Is Static Websites Relevant Today?
Short Answer: Yes
Long Answer: It Depends
I was recently updating my static business website: islandwebtek.com and the thought occurred to me.
Does anyone build static websites anymore?
A Brief History of my beginnings:
If you have seen my About Page, it explains how I got started into building websites 20 years ago.
Basically, I learned HTML and CSS and built lots of static websites back in the day.
Those were the simple days because you only designed for desktops and laptops, the smartphone and tablets were only a dream.
Geocities and Angelfire were the hosting servers I used at that time, and the browser I used was Netscape since Chrome and Firefox weren’t born yet.
I believe the first generation Content Management Systems was just beginning to appear on the scene.
Let me start off by saying that yes, a static built website is relevant today.
But it may not fit the needs of every client you encounter.
With HTML5 and CSS3, you can develop a basic website that can be responsive, fast loading and very secure.
Usually at the bottom of the:
<!-- bottom of body tag --> </body>
Before the closing tag, because location of loading js does affect page loading times.
Advantages of Static Websites
- Simple: HTML amd CSS (JS optional).
- Small files: Less storage space.
- Fast loading: extremely fast after code minified and using a CDN.
- Secure: no logins issues and no possibility of malicious code injected into your site.
- Eliminate other Security Issues: no third party plugins/themes failing to provide proper security updates.
- No database so no database issues.
- Easier to make a site look how the client wants: tweaking CSS.
Static Site Generators
An SSG is a compromise between using a hand-coded static site and a full CMS, while retaining the benefits of both. In essence, you generate a static HTML-only website using CMS-like concepts such as templates. The content can be extracted from a database but, more typically, Markdown files are used. [Seven Reasons to Use a Static Site Generator] 
Since we are on the subject of static websites, we can’t leave out static site generators.
Here are a few popular Static Site Generators:
- Jekyll – Transform your plain text into static websites and blogs.
- Hugo – The world’s fastest framework for building websites.
- Gatsby – Gatsby is a free and open source framework based on React that helps developers build blazing fast websites and apps.
- Hexo – Blazing Fast, Node.js brings you incredible generating speed. Hundreds of files take only seconds to build.
If your interest is stirred, here is a site that lists 247 static site generators that are available.
With so many options, you can do all the testing you want if you have the time.
A Short overview of Static Site Generators:
- They are all fast – uses pre-caching that never expires.
- Requires no server-side dependencies, just your HTML and CSS files.
- Can be hosted on any server.
- Very Secure – No dashboard login, no database holes, and cannot access by scripting.
- Easy to use Version Control like GIT.
- Very low maintenance, no server OS, no plugins, no software updates.
- No dashboard, no UI, no Admin.
- No WYSIWYG editor – must use Markdown in a text editor.
- No server-side functionality: contact form, comments, etc.
- Best suited for small content websites: impossible to manage sites with thousands of pages.
- Difficult for non developers: must understand the command line & markup.
A deeper dive into static site generators is for another article at another time.
This question can be answered or reworded to Disadvantages of Static Websites
The answer “It Depends” basically pertains to several factors:
- Do the clients need to perform their own updates?
- Are multiple users required access to edit and update content?
- What kind of website is required (Ecommerce, Membership, Photography, etc.)?
- Does site need to be scalable (add pages, content) fast?
A CMS or Dynamic web platform can fulfill the needs that a static website cannot offer.
Although a static website offers many advantages, it does have it’s weak points.
1) Do clients need to perform their own updates?
If yes, then you need a CMS. Updating or editing the content does not require any coding knowledge.
A static website requires the user to operate an FTP Client (or Cpanel) to download and upload files that are to be edited.
The downloaded file must then be opened in a text editor (NOT Wordprocessor) to be edited.
The user must also understand HTML or CSS to perform the edit, then uploaded via FTP back to the server into the correct location. Not a task for the normal client.
2) Are multiple users required access to edit and update content?
The advantage of a CMS is that each user can have their own login to the CMS dashboard.
In addition, you can assign different user roles, so not everyone will have full administrative access.
In other words, you can assign a role to the task that the user is responsible for.
- Super Admin – somebody with access to the site network administration features and all other features.
- Administrator – somebody who has access to all the administration features within a single site.
- Editor – somebody who can publish and manage posts including the posts of other users.
- Author – somebody who can publish and manage their own posts.
- Contributor – somebody who can write and manage their own posts but cannot publish them.
3) What kind of website is required (E-commerce, Membership, Photography, etc.)?
Although it would be technically possible to build these static websites, it would not be feasible for the following reasons:
- Speed: plugins are available that allow you to set up an e-commerce, or membership site quickly right out of the box.
- A CMS will allow the user to easily upload product images and content quickly.
- Membership sites can also be managed efficiently.
4) Does the site need to be maintained fast and easily?
One major weakness of static sites is if you have many pages, and required to perform a global change to the footer or navigation menu on every page, you would have to edit each page separately, a major time consumer.
With a CMS, you can execute this global change to all the pages at once.
In addition, you can add additional pages quickly.
This is one key advantage of a database: you only need to change data once for it to be updated throughout your site.
As you can see, in most cases a CMS usually fits the needs of clients much more efficiently than a static website.
So let’s do a short survey of a CMS below.
Back in the day, the PHP based Content Mangement Systems (CMS) appeared on the scene.
They offered a new way to build dynamic websites fast.
So with eager interest, I began testing Mambo, PHP Nuke, Joomla and Drupal to see how they worked.
Later, I moved on to Xoops, Concrete5, ModX, WordPress, and Opencart.
I could see the potential of using a CMS, especially for the client where they could actually do their own editing and updates without learning any code. A few had a steep learning curve, some lacked features, and a minority of the smaller CMS had slow support.
Since then they all have been refined, upgraded and tweaked to where they are now a platform that is used for a majority of the active websites on the internet today.
In fact, WordPress alone now powers over 33% of the websites [1, 2] on the web as of this post.
Disdvantages of a CMS
As amazing as the CMS’s are today, they also have many drawbacks:
- Learning curve involved.
- Requires a database (except flat file cms).
- Difficult to migrate
- A source of potential problems.
- Not easy for the non developer to work on.
- Huge files, some can be bloated with plugins and themes.
- A favorite for hackers, mandatory that all updates be current.
- Not as easy to adjust a theme to have a exact look.
- Third party plugins/themes may have security vulnerbilities.
That been said, the advantages outweigh the weak points and I would always recommend using a CMS to those you require it. I have built quite a few WordPress websites that have met the needs of its users successfully.
Online Website Builders
With the appearance of online website builders such a Squarespace, Wix, Weebly and Shopify, I have tested and actually built a few websites using this platform for clients.
But getting into the pros and cons is for another article for another day.
Basically, they have their part in the web market today.
I believe, the static website will still have a small part of the market in the website wars.
With all the options available today, it can get quite overwhelming for someone who is just looking for a simple website to promote their small business or organization.
Yes, the static website is still relevant for the following purposes:
- The client just wants a simple brochure or online business card site for a web presence.
Updates rarely required, just basic stuff: Who, What we do, Contact Info, and a few pics.
I can build a static site quickly, it would be lightweight, fast loading, responsive, secure, and low maintenance.
- Static websites are also relevant for a small business that consistently sell the same products.
It would not sell products online, but with direct contact with the business.
Product updates usually are only required once or twice a year, or maybe not even at all.
- Static sites are also easy to migrate to a different hosting service.
As long as the domain is active and pointed to the correct DNS, I could move a static website to another hosting provider and be up and running in minutes.
Static websites are nearly maintenance free and just keeps running.
What do you think?