Keep your chatbots. Speed is the web’s killer app and static is where it’s at.
AI. Chatbots. VR. AR. There’s been a lot of buzzword-friendly innovations on the web over the past couple of years, that (predictably) have garnered a great deal of attention. People, particularly people in marketing, like new things. They like shiny baubles. They like toys. I get that. Shiny new toys are great. They keep things interesting.
At its core though, and particularly when it comes to the internet, I would argue that technology’s primary purpose is to make life easier. To a large extent this means making access to information faster. None of these shiny new things can do this. They either have very limited applications, or they are (in my opinion) a cute fad that won’t help average people doing average things online, like looking for things and reading websites.
There is one innovative technology gaining traction that can make things better for almost everyone (including developers), and it’s the oldest technology around when it comes to the web: Static web sites.
Static websites are really fast. They are cheap to host. They are secure. They are easy to develop. What’s not to love?
Yes, static sites have been around for ages and, yes, they have been popular with certain kinds of developers for a few years now. But it is only recently that the other pieces of the puzzle have started to come together to make static sites a realistic prospect for large-scale sites that are managed and edited by non-technical staff. For years these sites have necessarily run on cumbersome content management systems which make them less secure, more expensive to host, and massively slower.
Don’t get me wrong; Wordpress is great for a number of reasons… It’s just that serving websites isn’t one of them.
Let’s take the web’s number 1 content management system as a case-in-point: Wordpress. Popular web development magazine site Smashing Magazine made the move away from Wordpress to being served as a static website and saw instant speed gains of up to 10x. Wordpress is slow. Even with caching systems and CDNs to serve assets, its slow when compared to a static, pre-rendered page. Don’t get me wrong; Wordpress is great for a number of reasons. For content editors it is simple and familiar. It makes writing and editing content easy. It allows non-technical staff to manage a website with (almost) no intervention from a developer like me. It’s just that serving websites isn’t one of these reasons.
Static websites in the modern era allow CMSes to do what they are good at (managing content) and nothing else. Pages are pre-rendered by a build tool and served as flat html, which can be served quickly, cheaply and securely, and can be easily cached by a CDN. The whole architecture is simpler: The CMS handles the content, and the website is built using a modern templating language. The two are combined with a build and, hey-presto, you have a super-efficient website.
You can even continue to use Wordpress to manage your content should you wish to. Wordpress now has API access to the content you create, and the industrious people over at Rooftop CMS have taken this a step further by providing a hosted Wordpress editing environment designed purely for plugging in to a static site generator. This brings the additional advantage of keeping your website code completely separate from your content, allowing your content to be used in other ways. You could chose to rebuild your site in a new technology. That’s fine, your content is still there. You could want your content in a mobile app. That’s fine, just plug in to the API. Having your content as a separate entity from your website is a modern, efficient way of managing things. It makes life easier. It will make your developers happy, too.
Modern build processes have made it easy to keep these sites in sync with content changes. My own little website (which badly needs updating) is static, but has a build process run automatically when I merge code into a particular branch of my Git repository, or when I update content. Everything is compiled, assets are rendered, and then automatically uploaded to my (very cheap) static site host. All of this build process is achieved with a very little configuration and, in my case, is completely free. It’s liberating. I can even get a whole bunch of changes ready to go and then make them live from my smartphone while I’m away from my desk.
The speed and cost savings that come with static sites are self-evident. But perhaps a larger benefit in some ways is the inherent security that comes from building your website in this way. Static sites have no server-side code running on them at all and, as such, they have virtually zero attack vectors for attackers to exploit. They are incredibly light on resources, too, so you won’t need your VPS or dedicated server to serve up your site — You can serve the same number of visitors with vastly less processing power and memory. Add to that the fact that, as I already mentioned, your pages themselves can be served by CDN, and your site will be incredibly fast and your server costs dramatically lower.
…they are for far more than just little microsites or developer blogs
I strongly believe that, in the majority of cases, a static website can do everything a dynamic website can do (yes, even eCommerce). I believe that we are at a point now where static sites don’t need to be intimidating to content managers, and where they can make their way to the fore. I believe that they are for far more than just little microsites or developer blogs: They can run major websites for international brands. The tools are all there now. The puzzle is complete. All that is needed is a little faith from the people who commission these projects.
So if you’re a business owner or a marketing manager making your decisions about a new website, I urge you to consider making that website static. I implore you to think beyond what you’ve used before and consider the very real benefits you could reap from taking a step into this perhaps unknown, but very much tried-and-tested technology.
Whether you’re the aforementioned business owner, marketing manager, or if you’re an agency as passionate about static sites as I am (or if you would like to be), get in touch with me. I’m always happy to talk, and I’d be delighted to help you pave the way forward into a faster, cheaper, more secure web-world, where your developers are happier and you have fewer day to day headaches. I’m available for freelance / consulting work, or for the right permanent role, so don’t be shy — get in touch. You know you want to.