Dynamic websites with feature rich content management systems have been around for many, many years now, and offer a lot more features and flexibility compared to static websites, yet so many websites are still being developed as a static site over a content managed (dynamic) website.
This blog will explain what both static and dynamic websites are, their advantages and disadvantages, which one is best in my opinion, and hopefully help you gain a better understanding so you can choose the right one for you.
A static website means that every single page on your website is stored on the server as a separate file containing the HTML code to display that page. This means if you have 100 pages on your website, there will be 100 .html files on the server containing the necessary HTML code and content.
Advantages of Static Websites
No advanced programming skills required
Most dynamic websites require advanced programming skills in languages such as PHP or ASP, and database administration knowledge with SQL. These “server side scripting” languages are the decision makers, what content to read and write to the database and the database communication scripts themselves.
A static website has no use of this therefore no advanced programming is required. Static websites are built using HTML and CSS code, so it does help to have a basic understanding of these, but with so many website building software like Dreamweaver on the market, it is possible to manage websites without knowing HTML and CSS at all.
No special web hosting server
In order for the dynamic scripts and database to work in dynamic websites, a special (but very common) server is required to process it. With static HTML website there is no need. Only a browser like Firefox, Safari, Chrome or Internet Explorer is required to run a static web page.
Faster Loading Times
The static file will be served to the user with no additional processing, but as is straight from the file system. With no database interaction speeds can be faster and server resources lower if a static website is used. Although this can be overcome in many content management systems that support “caching” of the content, in which they make a static page of a dynamic page to speed it up. See below for more info.
So in summary, the advantages of a static website are:-
- No advanced programming skills required
- No special web hosting server
- Fast loading times (although some dynamic website are the same)
Disadvantages of Static Websites
Difficult to Update and maintain
The problem with static websites becomes apparent when you want to update something that appears on every page, such as a Menu link, or change the website layout and design. Every page that contains the change has to be edited, and with a very large website this can be quite time consuming and costly.
Another disadvantage of this is the content on your website will all be mixed with HTML, so if you are not familiar with HTML, then editing this content yourself in a text editor is likely to be difficult or not even possible. Therefore changing perhaps one email address on page will be quite difficult by the website owner and so a web developer would need to be used which would cost money and also potentially take time to change.
Little or no functionality
With no server side scripting or dynamic functionality the page is very static. It does not do anything. It does not change depending on my interaction or choices I make. Therefore it is difficult, if at all possible, to utilise any form of popular functionality like shopping carts, social networking, forums and so much more. The page is only good to display the same, static content over again, so suitable only for a “brochure” website.
So in summary, the disadvantages of static websites are:-
- Difficult to update and maintain
- Costly to update and maintain
- Provide no functionality like shopping carts, social networking or forums
More Information about Static Websites
Content Managed Websites (CMS)
A content managed system (CMS) is when the layout and design for the website, created in files (like static sites), are separated from the content, which is stored in a database. This allows the server to use the same layout files over and over again for all pages on the website, but feed different content from the database to the user, depending on the pages they visit, or the choices they make. The design and layout files can be created in as little as 1 or 2 files in some cases.
Advantages of Content Managed (Dynamic Websites)
The layout and content separation with server side scripting to make decision, opens up a lot of possibilities and advantages for content managed and dynamic websites.
Design and Layout defined in few files
This means if you have a very large site and need a menu item changed, or layout changed, you only change it one (or very few) files and the whole website is updated.
Content separated from design
This also allows for only a few layout and design files to be used because the content is inserted dynamically into this file depending on the page you are on.
User friendly administration
The CMS will provider an administration area where the website owner can modify various settings and content associated with the website.
A WYSIWYG Editor (What You See Is What You Get)
This refers to an editor area with buttons to format the content and insert images, tables, hyperlinks and more. Taking a similar look to the familiar Microsoft Word, people will feel at ease formatting their content using this editor.
Many common CMS’s will have built in or add-ons available to add additional functionality to the website like a shopping cart, forums, business directory, and a lot more, which would be difficult to provide in a static website.
Search Engine Optimisation
Most common CMS’s would also the website owner access to important search engine optimisation aspects of the website like page titles and META tags like Keywords and description.
Fast Page Load Speeds (for some CMS’s)
Many Content Managers and Dynamic sites now have the ability to create “Cached” pages from the dynamic page. What this means is a .html page is actually created on the server from the dynamic content, and the server feeds this instead, thus simulating a static page. Cached pages can then be regenerated every so often to maintain a dynamic aspect and change content.
So in summary, the advantages of a Content Managed and Dynamic Website are:-
- Design and Layout defined in 1 file
- Content separated from design
- User friendly administration
- A WYSIWYG Editor (What You See Is What You Get)
- Added Functionality
- Search Engine Optimisation
- Same Speed As Static
Disadvantages of Content Managed (Dynamic Websites)
Of course, with anything there will be disadvantages.
Advanced coding and specialist knowledge required
Although many open source content mangers are freely available to download and install on a server, there will still be necessary programming and database knowledge required. The database has to be created, files uploaded to the server, installation process to follow, and then possible customisation afterwards (for a truly bespoke look and feel). So usually a web developer is required to build the site which would cost, although it likely the a developer is needed to build a static one too, so no difference there. An online system could be used, perhaps your hosting company provide one, but they will not be customisable and have a lot of limitations.
Increased Learning Curve
The developer would have to learn how to install, configure, customise and use the content management system, and possibly the coding and database knowledge, but hopefully after a few uses this should be overcome.
Some people may claim they cost more, but read on to find out why they should not.
Slower than Static?
Some people may claim they would be slower than static websites, but as stated above, using content managers that cache pages would be just the same speed.
So in summary, the disadvantages of a Content Managed and Dynamic Website are:-
- Advanced coding and specialist knowledge required
- Increased Learning Curve (first few times only)
- Possible Increased Cost (but should not as explained below)
- Possible Slower than Static (unless using a CMS that supports cache)
More Information About Dynamic Websites
So Which is Best, Static or Dynamic?
In my opinion static websites should not be developed anymore because of the disadvantages for maintaining and updating and with little functionality or user interaction.
Technology has moved on dramatically since static websites were considered the norm and there is no reason to use them anymore. Having a static website is likely to cause problems updating and maintaining the site.
In my opinion it is by far better to have a dynamic, content managed website.
But Don’t Content Managed Websites Cost More?
Many web design and development companies charge more for content management systems, possibly stating it would take longer to develop. This is just not true! If the development does take longer than expected, then it is because either the developer is not familiar with the content management system, or they have a badly designed content management system.
The time taken to provide a content management system, by an experienced company familiar with a good quality CMS should be less than if they developed it using a static website.
There may be other possible reasons why it would cost more, it may be the CMS:-
- is licensed from another company and costs are passed on
- is developed in-house and development costs need to be recouped
- is perceived as an added value service so is charged at a greater price
There is no arguing the third point, the value to a customer of a content management system is far greater than a static website, but with so many feature rich open source systems of very high standard that do not have license costs, the first two points should be dismissed.
So What Next?
There are a lot of content management systems available so I will not be listing them here and will assume you will choose a web developer to build your website. There are also a lot of criteria involved in choosing a web developer, but here are a few important points to consider in relation to the content manager they provide. Make sure they can:
- Provide a dynamic, content managed website
- Can develop it to the standard and speed you expect
- Charge a similar price to the equivalent static website (or justify why it costs a lot more)
- Are experienced in server side scripting and database programming for efficient development, maintenance and updates.
- Use an efficient content manager that supports cache so speed will be the same as a static website