Good Old Static HTML Sites Aren’t Dead Yet. Should They Be?


Static HTML sites look so last century that sometimes you might be wondering if they don’t belong to the past. There is no doubt that dynamic, database-driven sites, offer more and they make static HTML sites look like a poor relative but are static sites to be extinct?

Historically, static sites were first and for some years they were the main way to create a site. Content Management Systems (CMS) appeared a couple of years later, mainly as an easier and faster way to have online presence. CMS were meant mainly for blogs but because of all their numerous advantages they soon overtook and began to be used for any kind of site.

I am not saying this is wrong but sometimes all you need is a small static HTML site rather than a CMS-powered monster. I sometimes have such arguments with clients who always want a CMS, while a good old static HTML site is exactly what they need. In a sense, it is like a bike vs a car dilemma – for near distances in the city, a bike is much better than a car but if you plan to go outside the city on the highway, you do need a car.

Why a CMS Is the Better Option

If you compare a static site and a CMS in terms of abilities, it is more than obvious which of the two is the winner. However, in some other aspects, the comparison isn’t in favor of CMS. Basically, here are three things in which CMS do excel static sites:

  1. A CMS site is faster and easier to develop. Many features that are time-consuming in a static site take a second to do with a CMS. For instance, think of linkrolls in the sidebar – for a static site with hundreds of pages, how much time will you need to add a new link to the list on every single page?
  2. CMS are scalable. The ability to add new pages without lots of hassle is very important, especially with a huge site with a lot of pages. In this aspect, a static HTML site is simply impractical and out of question at all.
  3. Content updates are easier with a CMS. Even if you don’t have to add new pages frequently, if you have to update the existing ones frequently, then a CMS is the better option. For instance, if you have many product pages and you need to change product prices and/or features frequently, then frequent content updates are inevitable. If the people whose job these updates are are non-techies (i.e. the marketing guys), even if they are brave enough to mess with the HTML code of a static site, the risk to damage the code is so high that nobody in their right mind will even think about it.

The Case for Static HTML Sites

Image Source: CSS Code on Shutterstock

Despite all the nice things about CMS in the previous section, there is quite a lot of place for good old static HTML sites. For instance, they are a great solution for a small site – company and personal because:

A static site is easier to maintain. Unlike content updates, when it comes to maintenance, a static site is easier to maintain. If site maintenance will be done by the client not by the developer/designer, and the client doesn’t have the skills to maintain a dynamic site, then this issue is a deal breaker. In fact, very often with static sites you have no maintenance at all – no patches and updates to install regularly, the database won’t crash (because there isn’t a database at all), no need to migrate to a new version of the CMS, when one is released and deal with potential incompatibilities, etc. When I recall some cases of CMS updates that went wrong and took hell of a time (and a couple of sleepless nights) to fix, I think many people will appreciate this advantage of good old static sites.

  1. A static site is more flexible in terms of layout. With a CMS you can’t always achieve the layout you want because of the limitations a CMS has. While very often this isn’t critical, it is still unpleasant when you have to make creative compromises because of the deficiencies of the CMS you are using. I have spent so much time trying to figure out (and what is worse – in some cases in vain because the particular CMS simply couldn’t do what I wanted) how to do something fancier in the layout department that at times it would have taken me times less to do the same with static HTML.

The list of advantages of static old HTML sites might not be a long one but they are enough to keep static sites alive. Of course, static sites might be losing in numbers but they will always be needed and it is too early to proclaim them dead.

Three Questions to Help You Answer Which Way to Go

It is not uncommon to have clients who come to you with the decision what they need – a static site or a CMS but if you are the one to guide them to the choice, here are three simple questions to have in mind:

  1. Do you need a database for your content?
  2. Do you need more than a homepage, a simple Products/Services page(s), possibly a News page, and About Us/Contact?
  3. Do you plan to include lots of content in the future?

If the answer to any of these questions is positive, then this site is a good candidate for a CMS. If the answer isn’t clear yet, mostly because the client doesn’t know his or her future content needs, you can go the CMS way, because almost any CMS can be used to build a static site, too, if it turns out a static site is what the client really needs. Of course, this might sound stupid at first – since you are using an CMS anyway, why build a static site but there are cases when this is the the safest route.

I myself adhere to the KISS principle and when in doubt I frequently choose a static site with the option to migrate it to a CMS a couple of months/years later, if we really need it but I do admit in many other cases the CMS option is better. Anyway, when you have the design in HTML and CSS and the content properly formatted, importing this into a CMS isn’t much work.

It might sound an overkill to use a CMS to build a static site but if you strongly believe that in a couple of months your client will have a lot of content, you might check which CMS are considered best for a static site.

You know, sometimes clients are unpredictable (or simply unaware of their real needs) and this means we need to look for creative solutions to their problems in order to keep them happy and solve their real problem.

I must admit that before I learned about this reason to use a CMS, I always wondered why on Earth some designers use a CMS when a good old HTML site is more adequate. I thought that they might be doing it because they were lazy because it was easier to throw a quick and dirty CMS template, or were doing it for the money, but after I had clients who simply didn’t know how their business would fare and if they would need to expand the content of their site, it occurred to me that sometimes you simply can’t know what your future needs will be.

In one case, the client did plan to expand his business but the economic situation prevented him from doing so and quite obviously his plans for more product sections and more content in general had to be revised. Fortunately, we had decided that for the time being we would use a static site and when time comes, he would tell me in advance and I would migrate the site to WordPress. Unfortunately, this time never came but business is like that – unpredictable.

How about you? Do you frequently design simple HTML sites or have you gone CMS-only?

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