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?

(26 Posts)

Ada is a fulltime freelancer and enjoys every second of it. She is also the Blogger Relations Manager at, which is a web resource about leveraging WordPress, its themes, and plugins to create versatile and unusual websites.


  • Andy

    If you choose a CMS you are also choosing for maintenance as upgrades for security are needed.  Static sites are a set and forget mentality.

    Also a static site will more often than not be much faster as the CMS has to access the database to build the page. 


  • Content editors such as Cushy or Unify are also great options to let the client update its content. Some website are so small and simple, that a heavy CMS is a bit too much to handle the update process.

  • courtthree

    A well built dynamic site [shouldn’t] be any slower than a static one. But you are right, I would argue that MOST clients only need a static site but they have these wide-eyed ideas about posting new content every day – when, in fact, they will use the CMS so rarely they will phone you to make the update anyway!!!

  • CMS only! Any business owner that thinks a static site will benefit him knows nothing about the web. And it’s my job to educate them.

    Even if they don’t have the cash now to do everything they actually need, we can get started with something basic on a CMS, and upgrade the site with time without it costing them too much more…

    Static sites are dead. At least to me.

  • CMS or static, it isn’t the be all and end all of what your design should be. The implication being that static HTML sites are simple in design and often ugly or bland. All a CMS does is replace the content within a static layout (obviously there are further exceptions of this but at the very basic level remains true).

  • With the right caching in place a CMS site should load just as fast as a static HTML site.

  • Hi nice article. I think there’s still a place for static pages it’s all down to the situation of the client, if it’s a 1 page site which isn’t going to be updated then a static site can be fine. It’s quick to put together and the client is happy. 

    But anything that will need any sort of updating it’s best to go for the CMS system, using a framework like WordPress you can easily put together a multiple page site for the client which they can easily update.

    I always push for the CMS system, it may take a little longer but it’s worth it in the long run.

  • You should always go case by case. I personally think a CMS is overkill for what a lot of small businesses would require. They don’t want to make updates themselves, they just want a great looking site that serves its purpose. 

    I don’t think HTML/CSS static sites are dead, nor should they die any time soon. Not all websites need to be database driven. Most of my clients are small, they do just want a website that works and want me to update it. Very, very occasionally. So HTML/CSS static works perfectly. 

  • How about for the reason of allowing the client to manage the site themselves in an easy to use editor, without needing to fiddle with HTML editing and FTP transfers? A CMS is much easier for the majority of clients.

  • Captain Kickarse

    Static sites aren’t dead by any means. A persons budget or needs may only require a static site. Though I think CMS sites are the way to go. I recommend them over static.

  • Charlie

    So all we need is Geocities hosting, just plan HTML, no PHP, no databases. COOL!

    (yes, I was sarcastic)

  • I think there is a use for each.  Dynamic sites are best for most businesses, but some businesses that are only using the website as a presence don’t need the ability to modify content on the fly.

    Same as everything in life, no shoe fits every foot.

  • Lmarion

    great post.  It all depends on what you are doing.  There are some alternatives to Wp for CMS.  Something I have been using (simple cms) is really a nice alternative and makes design easier although overall WP is the king when it comes to add ons and flexibility.  It just depends.  hHe great thing is choices. 

  • Andrew

    I agree with Andy.

    One can also use server-side and client-side processing in a static site that removes some of the “update a link in all pages” scenario described by the author.

    I also dispute the author’s claim that CMS were mainly meant for blogs. Sure, software built for personal publishing has been coopted into the CMS realm, but I’m pretty sure that CNET was using what is now called OpenText CMS  before Dave Winer’s Frontier 4.1 and Radio products were created (which IMO is the first true blogging software). It certainly appeared before WordPress debuted and became the dominant “CMS”. What we used to call “CMS” is often now called “ECM” – Enterprise Content Management. Gotta love marketing!

    In my limited experience with non-HTML clients, the website will rarely be updated whether on a CMS or static site. The CMS is seen as daunting and gives me more support calls that require me to do research than a static site. By the time I find an answer to a CMS issue, I could have the static site fixed. Most of my clients aren’t willing to learn HTML either, but I have done work for clients that have an existing static workflow, so going to a CMS isn’t really going to make it easier for them.

    I work for a company that uses a CMS and despite a dozen hours of training, most people have no idea how to properly use it.

    Nevertheless, I think the author does a good job of summarizing the differences.

  • Guest

    Another advantage to a static site is it is easier to design. You don’t have to have local servers running and have the CMS software installed. As well as worrying about if what you want to do is supported.

  • As brought up in the article, CMS on some sites is overkill.  Everytime the subject of what I should use to build my site comes up there are always a bunch of replies toting WordPress, Joolma, Magento, etc (depending on what the original person asked about) as the cats meow without even asking the person,

    a) Purpose of the site
    b) Goals for the site
    c) What skills the person has as far as maintaining the site are? 

    There are light weight ways to build a static HTML site and have the actual content maintained by the owner whether they know basic coding or not.

    Never mind the maintenance issues regarding updates to the software used when full blown CMS/ecommerce software package is used.  And do any of you remind the site owner to backup everything for the site each time they make a change or addition?  Replying on the web host’s backup could wipe out a whole day’s work because the site owner did the changes and updates between backups.

    Static HTML sites still have a place. You just have to ask the right questions.

  • Thanks for the link to static site generators, you are right I didn’t know about them. One day I might try them to see if they do a good job because even though I really appreciate builders and generators of all kinds because some of them do a brilliant job but before I use it in production, I need to test it a lot, so that I am sure it doesn’t output a mess.
    @Andrew: WordPress became the most popular blogging platform but you are right it isn’t the first. I not that familiar with all the marketing talk around CMS but I’ve heard Web CMS in addition to ECM, which probably means exactly the stuff we refer to as CMS on the Web. Somewhere I read that technically WordPress isn’t that much of a CMS because it was lacking I don’t remember what to qualify as a (Web) CMS but I’d gladly leave all these technical details to the CMS experts. :) For the purpose of this article, I am happy to assume that if it has a DB, it’s an CMS. :)

  • Jane Rivera

    Exactly the right thing to do. Just follow the stages in creating a website and you will be able to come up  with the best solution about whether to use CMS or not. But if the client will insist on using CMS, let it be, as long as they will pay for it. :)

    Also, using CMS has its advantage, just in case your client decided to expand their business and eventually update the website, you will no longer have so much difficulty, right??

  • Mark

    As someone that’s been programming since 1982, I see the rise of CMS developement as being primarily built on two main factors.  One, most “developers” today are lazy, and two, they are largely incompetent.

    Saying that a static site looks ‘last century’ is a reflection on the designer, not the means of building the site.  And I would disagree, anyway.  When I look at the sites of designers of real quality, their sites are frequently not built on any CMS – because they don’t have to be.  The people behind the quality project are developers of quality.  I think the converse is more true.  WordPress sites are easy to pick out, because most WP “developers” are nothing more than clerks filling out themes.  So the “modern” site looks cookie-cutter in nature.  All the same size and shape, with zero imagination behind the design.

    Then, there’s the point of ease.  It takes me longer to log into WordPress, navigate to “all posts”, find the post I want, click edit, edit, publish.  On a “static” website, I just open my text editor, edit, http://FTP.  If anything, its faster.  It’s also less restrictive, because I can actually write my own HTML and CSS, I have more control over how the output comes out.  WordPress fills the content with automatically inserted HTML that I often don’t want, and almost NEVER need.  The code is bulkier and less “modern”, as modern conventional wisdom is that less code is better.  None of the major CMSs have output with less code than on sites I produce by hand.

    Speed of development is also relative.  Some of us actually know what we’re doing, and can code widgets as fast as you can find one in a plug-in repository.  And for those constant repetitive things that come up on lots of sites – do you really think smart developers code the exact same thing fresh every time we build a site?  We keep libraries of our reusable code for that purpose.  So something that builds a list of blogroll lists – we make it once, and it’s there every time we need it in the future.  With more adaptability than you have using something you didn’t write, and don’t know how to rewrite to fit a specific need.

    Then, the idea that ANY site is a static site is completely wrong.  Not building a site in a CMS doesn’t make it static.  It’s not carved into a block of wood.  The only difference is the MEANS of changing the content.  An HTML site can be more dynamic than one built in WordPress, if the developer so desires.  A site built in PHP can have all the pages include fluid content, such as navigation.  You add a link to a single PHP page (menu.php), and it’s automatically updated on every page on the site. 

    And then my favorite part is the up-down-grade.  When your CMS decides to deprecate a block of functions.  And now your themes no longer work when your clients upgrade their version of WordPress.  Themes break.  Plugins break.  The WP site even has compatibility charting for these things in their own respository, because they don’t all work with all versions of WP.  No static site will break because of a framework upgrade.  The site never becomes obsolete.  Your clients do not call to say they upgraded and now the site doesn’t work at all.  An absolute nightmare if you are a busy developer or firm with hundreds, or thousands of clients – and suddenly the framework for WP you love so much is broken and you have to fix it across your entire client book. 

    For all those calling talent and knowledge a “dinosaur”, it’s neither outdated nor obsolete to actually have ability.  It takes longer to build a Lamborghini by hand, than it does to roll a Ford Focus off an assembly line.  Quality takes time.  I’d rather be making Lamborghinis than Fords.  Which are you making?

  • You have to build a site based on the customer’s needs. If the customer is a small business, then a small static site, with the basic info of their company, is all that is needed. Most small businesses don’t have the resources or the content to maintain an active, dynamic site.

  • I do think CMS sites are the way to go and I disagree with the point about CMS sites having less flexibility in terms of layout than a static HTML site. If you know how to theme any given CMS, it has just as much flexibility as a static HTML site. I specialize in completely custom WordPress themes, for instance, and I struggle to imagine anything built in static form that I couldn’t duplicate as a theme. Flexibility just comes down to skill level when theming any CMS and isn’t a limit of the CMS itself.

  • Good observation! Our statistics (as of a psd-to-html conversion provider) also indicate that static websites are still quite popular.

  • Awesome reply! Respect! This is the most convincing defense of static sites I’ve ever seen and I really, really liked it.
    I’ve had my share with CMS miseries, though I don’t think I’ve seen all that can be seen in this department and I do turn (or redirect clients) when I doubt I will be able to handle their CMS project not only in terms of design/development but mostly in ongoing support. Right now a friend of mine is hysterical because she can’t even login to WP and for now I am also clueless why this happens. I see how I will spend the weekend looking for the solution to an unbelievable problem and who knows what kind of bug in WP we’ll discover. :(
    I’m definitely the manual way, at least in the overwhelming majority of the cases and I am irritated by conveyor output on the Web but I also know that unfortunately there is market for both. :( But I also know that very often a client doesn’t need (not to mention afford) a masterpiece – any good site will do. These are the realities. :(

  • Guill Lo

    I see people, and sometimes calling themselves developers or designers, that don’t get the difference between a geocities type website and a website done with a static website generator. The fact that it looks crap is absolutely not the fact of being static. And writing static website is not about writing each full html page by hand. All the new and common design patterns still apply, you just compile and that’s it. For a personal blog, product page, etc…, static website are the best: secured, super fast, fully customizable. 

  • PJ

    this is a thunderbolt reply. i concur with what you say. hope the CMS stuff doesn’t kill us lowly designers who can code a little.

  • Although I don’t use a CMS on every website I build, I would never build a website ‘the old fashioned way’ with numerous .HTML pages. I use PHP to include pages into a master template file – it’s just easier updating a design on one page than in 25 like we used to.

  • Craig

    WordPress is NOT “dynamic”. It’s just serving static content from a database. Sorry but that isn’t dynamic, regardless of what this new generation of “WordPress developers” have to say about it. 

    Likewise, automatically generated sidebar links are NOT dynamic, they’re just automated. There’s a big difference. They don’t change based on user input or query parameters, they change only when you write or edit a post. All the content is already there. You already entered the post title yourself manually. All WordPress does is enumerate your posts and insert the titles into a template. That is NOT dynamic. All of this can be done at the time you author a post and can be easily generated as HTML *once*, instead of “dynamically” on every page request.

    A static site generator can do almost everything WordPress can. The problem is just that no one has made a user-friendly site generator or put in any marketing effort, since most existing WordPress users neither about care nor understand the difference between “static” and “dynamic”.

    Apparently you do care, you just don’t understand.

  • Ryan Sharp

    Exactly. There seems to be a huge influx of utter morons posing as developers recently. They naturally gravitate towards trash like WordPress, which they hope will reduce their need to actually know wtf they’re doing.

    The WordPress “community” is like some sort of brain-damaged cult for wannabe Mark Zuckerbergs.

  • Ryan Sharp

    It really makes me want to puke when I see people like you, claiming some group of people “know nothing”, while simultaneously displaying your huge ignorance and lack of knowledge.

  • Ryan

    Your problem is that you are a consumer of technology and not a producer. WordPress does what you want, you don’t really understand it, but you proclaim it as being the “modern way” regardless.

    WordPress is a huge piece of shit…

  • Really? Is that the best you can do? Please demonstrate my ignorance, my lack of knowledge… Show me where I’m wrong. Make a point at least. Don’t just blindly insult someone without a solid argument…

    Hiding behind your anonymity just shows me YOUR lack of knowledge… And possible favoritism of tools like frontpage! 

    If my statement offended you, well… Get over it! If someone “knows nothing” it doesn’t mean they’re stupid… In fact, it’s pretty normal for a business owner to not know anything about the web, nor do I expect them to. Otherwise I wouldn’t have a job.

  • Frank

    I prefer static html sites over CMS. I think in regards to security, you have to keep that in mind. I have had two WP sites hacked and one was taken completely down. Unless a client is willing to pay for maintenance and updates, you will save your yourselves lots of headaches in the loong run.

    I created my own simple Admin backend using php and CKEditor. I get to maintain my layout and the user can edit their content… SIMPLE!!  Plus, all the inline content is saved as flat html files and I use php includeds to plug them into sections of the site.

    No mess, no fuss, no WP security wholes… If the static site gets an injected virus or hacked… I can easily get the site up and running within minutes, not days!!!

    With a static site, I use Dreamweaver’s template system called “assests” So, managing a lot of pages, menus etc… is easy. Edit a template assest and all parts of the site are updated.

    It’s a no brainer!!
    HTML + PHP Admin Backend = Client can edit site and leave my layout alone!!

  • Nikos

    You took the words right out of my mouth. Your points bring up excellent valid arguments. I am a web designer, and i just use a simple editor (bluefish) to create all my work. Nothing better than html, css, and some nice java-script and php additions. I have made numerous sites for my customers, and each site is a unique beauty.  For a very small fee, I agree to help them with updates if needed, such as adding/changing text or pics or other media. Much faster and way more secure than adding some sort of CMS monster. But apart from the technical advantages or disadvantages, i would say that, and i quote you: “One, most “developers” today are lazy, and two, they are largely incompetent.” is the main point.  Any argument against that statement is pure ignorance.


  • mahdimuller

    i use disqus for comments, and google custom search for search. my website is completely static html pages generaterd by wordpress+ plugin

  • Gem Barrett

    I see what you’re saying, but CMSs are not appropriate for all clients. If the site doesn’t need regular updates or the client is a techno-phobe or simply too busy to do the updates themselves (as is the case with many of my clients) then there’s simply no need for a CMS. Just my experience :)

  • Gem Barrett

    You’ve just put into words everything I was about to say :)

  • Sam

    Couldn’t read the rest of the article as you open with ‘static sites look dated’….. Jeeeeeeeeezzzzzzz what drivelling evidence do you base that on? Go back to the drawing board man!!!!

  • Matt Wilkie

    “The problem is just that no one has made a user-friendly site generator or put in any marketing effort”, curiously enough, it is exactly that quest, searching for a user-friendly static generator, which led me to this thread. :) (/me still looking…)

  • Mark – what is your contact details?

  • JR

    Funny how all these comments of how bad cms sites are versus static HTML from the exact people who are commenting on a blog that uses WordPress. Now I can imagine most of these people hate the “NEW CMS” way of building sites because of dates like “programming since 1982” etc.

    Kinda reminds me of my dad who till today will tell me a smartphone is useless because he cant use one. As the saying goes old habits die hard and unfortunately most of you live with that same obstacle.

    Don’t get me wrong here, I too enjoy the static pure coded html website but calling someone incompetent for using WordPress, Joomla or one of the hundreds of CMS systems is a lack of knowledge themselves in my eyes.

    Let me state my opinion again! How can you say if someone is using PHP, HTML & CSS + Javascript oh and don’t forget MySQL all together be a lack of knowledge and yes I know there are a lot of people that only plug a theme and say they developed it. But this article is about real development so lets leave the other guy out for now.

    Yes HTML is a wonderful language and adding CSS makes the possibilities limitless.

    I bet you all have a facebook account. Isn’t that too a CMS in its own way? Facebook is actually a good example as there has gone so much work into it over the years but yet all we need is the frontend to upload photos or say our say which is the only thing we want to do with facebook am I right? The same argument goes for my clients. They too only once in a while want to add a little news to their site or post a new picture.

    I also bet most of you read news online. Oh but these guys Static it all the way don’t they.

    Again don’t hammer on me yet I agree with the Static HTML idea and use it daily.

    I can go on and on and on with my argument but I think you get the idea. The article was written as a perfect explanation of both advantages and disadvantages.

    Statics will not die just yet at least I hope not. I use it extensively and will continue to do so. But I will never hammer a CMS just because I feel like it.

    Cellphones are here to stay so is the CMS, even if you do only use it for a one pager.

    I have grown with the times. You should too!


  • adamrafferty

    Ada – for the last year I have grappled with whether to port my static site over to WP and get my blog over there as well.

    I have played with the tools and think they are awesome, but – all anyone has to do is search “how to hack wordpress” and there are several perfect instructional videos out there showing how it’s done.

    Hackers are organized, have software that does it for them, and are a community.

    So – the question is…where would one rather spend hours?

    Learning to code a static site and then focus on marketing OR spend hours always protecting your WP install against an army?

    Even a comment system like this is available as an easy line of include using DISQUS.

  • disqus_zYCTOlma1K

    Yeah WordPress “developers” think they are actually real
    developers, but really they are designers thinking they can program when they don’t
    even know the meaning of “Dynamic”

  • Zeeshan Parvez

    Simple solution. Build your website using a dynamic CMS like WordPress on you computer and then convert it into a Static HTML Website using a Plugin and you can have best of both worlds! This is what I do!!!