Lost in the Static

by Justin Parsons | 02 Dec 2020

Two computer monitors with code on screen

In the early days of web development, the tools available for building your website were limited. A web developer would have to create and hand-code large numbers of files for a website to work and display in a browser. As the industry has evolved we have seen the release of an overwhelming amount of tools to help build, deploy and manage website content more efficiently. Some of the most common forms of this are content management systems like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla.

WordPress has been king since its release in 2003 and they now boast they power 38% of all websites worldwide. WordPress has been adopted as almost a universal solution for creating all sorts of websites. While platforms like WordPress are awesome and have their place, they aren’t always the best solution as they come with major drawbacks. These include constant maintenance, higher security risks, and they require more advanced servers.

Because of these drawbacks, there has been a return to a more classic way of building sites, but with a modern architecture called Jamstack. The Jam in Jamstack refers to JavaScript, API and Markdown. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll just refer to them as static websites. Static site generators do the same thing as software like WordPress just in a different way. They take your data, content and template files and generate static HTML files at build time. These files are then immediately ready to be displayed to your viewers when requested.

Modern static websites are now much more than static. They can actually be dynamic with comments, forms, search and even e-commerce. Static sites have come so far that there are now a large number of headless content management systems, which blend the editing experiences of software like WordPress with static HTML websites. Let’s dive into the core aspects that make the Jamstack and static sites so great.

Little to no Maintenance

With static websites, there’s no underlying software to maintain. And, unlike software like WordPress, there’s no dependency on themes and plugins. Content management systems like WordPress require constant maintenance. You’re responsible for updating the software, plugins and themes to keep your website secure and functioning properly. With a static site, once your website is built and deployed live, you don’t have to spend time running regular updates. You also don’t need additional plugins and off-site storage for website backups. Your codebase typically lives in a Version Control System, such as Git. This gives you a change history of every file that exists on your site, meaning you essentially have a backup each time you make a change to your site.

Low Hosting Requirements

Static websites typically don’t need advanced servers and don’t use a database. They can run on simple, cheap or often free hosting servers and still run blazingly fast.

Better Stability

One of the most frustrating aspects of a WordPress website is how unpredictable it can be. Ever have something change on your site that you can’t explain? This should never happen but it seems to happen all the time. Whether it’s a poorly developed theme, software or plugin updates that break things or alter layouts, working in WordPress can feel like a never-ending loop of fixing problems. With a static website, you get much better stability. Your static files are in your full control, the only time something changes is when it’s intentional.

More Secure

Databases and plugins are the most common vulnerabilities of a WordPress website, especially if these aren’t regularly maintained and kept up to date. Because static sites don’t use a database to store information, your servers do not need to perform logic dynamically. This removes ways for malicious code to be injected into a database to do harm. Because there’s no database to hack, hacking a static site is nearly impossible.

Content management systems like WordPress rely heavily on plugins. While some plugins are great for adding functionality to a site, the open-source nature means that bad plugins can easily be created and circulated. Often these fall out of development and become abandoned by their developers, leaving your site vulnerable or broken.

Better Performance

With the constant rise in mobile browsing, demand for instant information and decreased attention spans, website speed is one of the most important aspects of your user experience. Static sites have gained popularity due to the performance demands of both users and search engines. Modern search engines expect your website to load under three seconds, which can be a tall task for most WordPress websites.

Static sites are almost always faster because they are pre-built and optimized before users even load them. This means they do not need to be processed on the fly when someone requests your page in their browser. WordPress however, relies on a database for its information. When someone requests your page, WordPress files get processed and served dynamically following a series of interactions between a database, backend code, server, browser, and layers of caching. This process can be taxing on your servers and lead to very slow load times.

Removing all the database and server communication typically makes static sites faster. And with site speed as one of the top search engine ranking factors, you could be seriously hurting your chances of showing for your top search terms if your site isn’t meeting the performance benchmarks of search engines.

In modern web development, static is simply the way to go. Your site is going to be lightweight, secure—and above all—fast! In the end, you’ll save money by allocating less time into the website build and removing almost all ongoing maintenance afterward. Building a static website will also make your website more stable and future-proof. With no underlying software, theme or plugins to rely on, you aren’t vulnerable to changes they make, meaning your investment should last much longer. Looking to build a new website soon? Interested in seeing the performance gains you could achieve by switching to a static site and a modern architecture? Consider these benefits of going static!

Written by

Justin Parsons

Web Developer/Designer

Justin builds, designs and maintains custom websites for Insight’s wide-ranging client base. As a former business owner, Justin understands that your website should work as a major conduit for achieving marketing and sales goals. His strategic, results-oriented approach—combined with a can-do attitude, exceptional tech savvy and constant desire to learn—makes Justin an incredible asset to Insight’s creative department. Prior to joining Insight, Justin ran a website design and development company providing full-service creative solutions. He holds an associate degree in software application development from Rasmussen College.

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