Why Static Sites Are Making A Major Comeback
After nearly two decades following the introduction of dynamic websites and content management systems, static sites are making a return. This is mainly because dynamic websites’ monolithic architecture is slow, especially vulnerable to hackers, and becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. With a majority of the world shifting online during the pandemic, the pressing need for high-performance websites that address these issues is taking the world back to static websites- where all this first began.
In this article, we’ll be delving back into the future- exploring static sites, the benefits of static site generators, and their rise in popularity in 2021.
What Are Static Sites?
When web development first began, every existing website was a static website. Static websites are coded in HTML, and as the name ‘static’ suggests, the content on these sites never changes unless the developer manually makes changes. A static website is pre-built, meaning each time a user loads a page, the server simply displays a file. As a result, users see the same display page no matter who they are, what browser they are using, or where they are accessing the site from. Static sites are generally built independently without connecting to a database. Without a back-end database layer, they load super quickly because there are no database queries or client-server requests to process. Programmers typically use HTML to set up the base structure and then use CMS to add other visual elements.
In the early days of the Internet, static sites worked well for small-scale businesses and personal users. But as the business world started shifting online, static sites proved to be inefficient. They required the developers to code each page manually and were too limited to encompass growing business needs. Static sites could make a business page seem outdated since they were stagnant, and implementing changes was significantly time-consuming. They also could not offer visitors an interactive or engaging user experience.
This led to the birth of dynamic sites. In a dynamic site, the server gets the content from a database and has to build up the site in real-time for each visitor instead of coding the pages ahead of time. To manage dynamic sites, content management systems such as WordPress were also created.
In general, dynamic sites can provide different user experiences and offer greater user interaction than static sites. While static sites are generally more information-oriented, dynamic sites can integrate changing elements and interactive forms and displays to enhance user experience. Unlike static sites, these sites can generate content depending on user interaction and changes (such as an eCommerce website displaying recommended products based on the visitor’s past buying behavior). They are much more complex and require a great deal more maintenance. In dynamic sites, the server searches the database for the right content, identifies the suitable template, generates the page, and then serves it to the user, which is why dynamic sites typically take several seconds to load while static sites load instantly.
The Return Of Static Sites in 2021
A commonly asked question is that if dynamic websites are so great, why are static sites suddenly regaining their popularity? This is because even though dynamic websites come with a bunch of advantages, they aren’t always the safest best.
Some of the common drawbacks with dynamic sites are:
- Creating database connections and adding additional features makes dynamic sites much more expensive to build than static ones.
- Dynamic websites are much more prone to hacking, malware, viruses, and cyber-security threats of all kinds, as they’re usually connected to external databases that have many known vulnerabilities.
- Setting up a dynamic website is a long, laborious, and time-consuming process that isn’t always ideal for businesses to invest in.
- These websites are harder to recover after a crash or DDoS attack and also require complex software to build.
So where exactly does this problem arise? Today, a majority of websites are built with first-generation content management systems like WordPress. In fact, according to W3Tech, WordPress powers over 40% of all the websites around the globe. When it was first introduced, WordPress gave businesses the opportunity to design and display interactive content to keep up with changing user demands. At that time, it seemed like the best way out. But today, these websites have become slower and increasingly challenging to maintain and secure from ever-rising cyber threats.
This has led the world to turn back to where it all started- with static websites. And no, that doesn’t mean we’re reverting to uninspiring black-and-white walls of text! Technology and automation have now allowed developers to create static sites in a way that addresses the pitfalls of dynamic websites and supports some nifty business-boosting tricks. The answer isn’t in picking one type of website over the other- it now lies with Static Site Generators, an amalgamation of the two.
Static Site Generators – The Best Of Both Worlds
Static Site Generators are a combination of hand-coded static sites and CMS, allowing developers to take the best of both worlds. They help address some of the pain points of dynamic websites while also enjoying the many benefits these websites offer, serving as a sort of compromise between the two approaches. Like a Content Management System, it allows developers to use templates and automatically regenerate webpages, but this is done beforehand and not in response to a user’s request. This greatly speeds up website loading times since webpages are instantly ready and don’t have to be put together once a user puts in a request, and also allow for greater customization since developers aren’t limited by CMS database fields.
Websites with static site generators work somewhat like this- Developers generate a static HTML page website while adding features (like templates) taken from the world content management systems. The site is then generated in a staging server, after which the resulting HTML files are deployed to the live web server. Developers can build SSGs in just about any language out there.
With a CMS and an SSG, developers can build static web pages, retrieve content from a database and use layouts and features just as they would with a dynamic site. This is similar to how a dynamic website is built, but the major difference is that this is done at built time instead of on the server in response to a page request. The SSG pre-renders all of the pages on the site, meaning that every user is shown the same page with the same information each time they put in a request. This is why they are known as Static Site Generators, since the final assets they create are all static.
This, however, does not mean that the website is stagnant or unchanging, unlike the first static sites of the 90s. Static site generators build using templates, making it easy to develop and deploy multiple websites from the same template but with different content. This process can be automated to be so fast-paced that real-time users cannot distinguish between a dynamic website and one built with an SSG.
Benefits of Static Sites
Making the shift from Content Management Systems to static site generators can be challenging but is inherently extremely rewarding. As they lack a complex database and are super lightweight with little hosting needs, they are simply more convenient and affordable than dynamic sites. Static Site Generators are all the rage today simply because of how many benefits they bring to the table, some of which include:
1. Elevated Performance & Speed
One of the biggest advantages of using Static Site Generators is that they result in much better website performance. Usually, with dynamic websites, the webpage is individually built in real-time in response to every user request, generally taking a couple of seconds or more. Most users don’t wait more than one or two seconds for a page to load and end up on a different website that responds faster, causing businesses to lose out on potential customers.
With static site generators, page speed is faster since the static site is pre-rendered as lightweight HTML files. In fact, static sites load ten times faster than their dynamic, CMS-powered counterparts. As the site content is delivered as a wholly pre-rendered webpage, the site loads almost instantly, which plays a crucial part in keeping visitors satisfied. Unlike dynamic sites, users are also less likely to get frustrated at broken images or slow-loading pages. Improved loading times greatly help you provide your users with a streamlined customer experience and also propels your site’s SEO rankings. This is especially important in transaction-driven sites, where offering a fast experience is vital in staying ahead of your competitors. A static site will always perform better than a CMS-powered one, even if they’re built using the same template.
As the dynamic website system is entirely connected, hackers and cybercriminals have increased opportunity to take advantage of known vulnerabilities in the design and steal precious data and important business information through your website. In a static site, your content database is separated from the front-end web interface, giving hackers lesser weak points to breach. As static sites aren’t running on page load, they have an extra level of security that dynamic websites do not have. Although some risks will always remain, they are nowhere near as vulnerable or problematic as with dynamic sites.
3. Flexibility & Customization
Tradition content management systems are usually not the best places for flexibility and innovation. This means that dynamic sites generally have greater constraints since they are tied to a database with limited options. To add additional features to your website, you’ll have to use an additional plugin or customizable functionality, which is time-consuming and opens up more vulnerabilities for hackers to attack. As static sites can be rendered using a multitude of frameworks, they allow developers greater flexibility when developing and maintaining them.
Static sites are easily scalable and can adapt to changing needs of your business website or application. With static design websites, you can easily present content across multiple channels without having to rewrite it. Scalability is both convenient and affordable, as pages don’t have to be reassembled with every delivery. This allows businesses more room to adapt their website as the business grows.
5. Effective SEO
As these sites deliver better speed and user experience, they are much more likely to receive high rankings on popular search engines, which ultimately helps direct more traffic to your website.
6. Developer Friendly
Most dynamic sites require endless patches, updates, and maintenance, but this is not the case with static sites. As they are so simple, they are easy to both build and maintain. They have no moving parts, and the need for consistent maintenance is near zero.
7. Increased Reliability
Dynamic websites have many moving parts, making them complicated and all the more likely to crash or fail. Sudden traffic surges can easily overwhelm the servers and crash the database, which can sometimes be challenging to recover. As static sites are much more straightforward, they are also more reliable in terms of performance. The server simply has to return flat files, so traffic surges do not significantly impact speed or performance. It’s still possible for static sites to crash or overload, but it’s much less likely.
Despite being highly advantageous, static site generators also have some downsides.
- There is no user-friendly interface. Non-developer users face difficulty when publishing content using SSGs, since there is no CMS interface, and they are forced to work with raw, unformatted data. Even if they are able to get the site up and running, making updates and changes is equally challenging and requires external developer support.
- Even though unlimited customization is possible, there are very few built-in templates, and it can be hard to get started. Many site generators do not have built-in templates, meaning developers have to put in additional work and time to build them from scratch.
Building Your Static Site
If you’re interested in building your own static site, there are dozens of different versions with varying developer frameworks and languages that you can choose from. When evaluating different site generators, be sure to take into account factors like website size, functionality, requirements, primary purpose, and of course, the budget you can allocate to site-building. Here’s a small list of some popular static site generators to help you get started:
Once you’ve picked a static site generator that aligns with your demands, we also recommend choosing a headless CMS along with it to build your static site. This content management system can work in conjunction with the site generator to allow you to present your data across different channels, offering greater flexibility and real-time collaboration to your users.
The Challenges With SSGs- Weighing Your Odds
Although the rewards of static site generators are many, it’s important to weigh your odds before you decide to make the shift from CMS to SSGs. Be sure to carefully assess if your business at its current stage can afford to make the shift, since the process is not generally an easy one.
Deploying a static site generator within your business workflow can be highly complicated, which can sometimes be a deal-breaker for businesses. For starters, you’ll need some skilled labor just to get the generator up and running. Once the system is set up, you’ll have to put in additional work to automate the processes, which requires extra time and resources. It’s also crucial to carefully plan the features of the site you’re trying to build and ask expert advice on whether building with an SSG is suitable for your company’s unique requirements.
Not only will using a static site generator require a significant amount in your business budget, but your employees might not be comfortable with this change. Even if you can afford to make a large investment, it’s essential to communicate with your team and assess if they’re willing to embrace changes and embark on a learning journey.
Besides the obvious, another challenge with site generators is that this is still a relatively new concept, and there isn’t an extensive community of experts to turn to for help. Your team will have to integrate an entirely new build process where additional support might not always be readily available.
In the end, you must ask yourself if the investment is worth it and whether your business is in a position to embrace such a large-scale change. If your company is at a stage where you’re willing to experiment and embrace newer technologies, now might be a good time to look into site generators. Once you’ve decided to employ them and overcome the challenges of the process, you can sit back and enjoy the many benefits they will bring to your organization.
Curious to learn more about SSGs and need some expert tech insight? Mpire is just a call away! Reach out to us with your query or call (617) 804-0539 for a free consultation!
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