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Static HTML Sites vs CMS/Dynamic Websites

Posted by on in Web Design

cms_vs_html.jpgIf you are a business owner, manager, marketer or anybody else who is not a web designer/developer, then it's likely that when your web designer recommends developing your website using a CMS, you aren't going to have the foggiest idea of what he/she is on about.

I'm going to help you differentiate between a static website and a CMS, which produces dynamically generated content, as well as help you determine which you should be using for your new website. To do this, we'll need to explore the definitions and characteristics of static websites and CMS-driven websites.

Static Websites

If your website was set up in 1999 and looks like your grandmother designed it, then it's quite likely that it's a static website.frame.jpg

Seriously, however, in laymen's terms: a static website is a collection of HTML (for content/structure) and CSS (for styling) files which contain all of your website's content. The static site is generally not backed by a database of information as all the information is contained within these static files.

Advantages of Static Websites

  • One advantage of a static HTML website is that you have much stricter control over your file structure, design and SEO efforts. Because your content is not generated from a database, making changes to meta information, changing URLs of pages, tweaking the design for a single page on your site etc. is a case of simply opening up the HTML file pertaining to that page and making the change.
  • The other main advantage is that a simple static website will generally load a lot quicker than a simple CMS website will. This is because there isn't any extra bloat around your content or any calls to a database for information. All your information for a page is contained within a single HTML file which is linked to a CSS file for styling, meaning the page should have lightning quick load times.

Disadvantages of Static Websites

  • Design needs to be replicated for each page, as well as any additional "modules" of information that are carried across a number of pages.
  • Because all changes are made using web-programming languages called HTML and CSS, you cannot make changes to the website yourself unless you are familiar with the programming languages.
  • It takes an age to make structural changes to the website, as these changes generally need to be made on every page, particularly in the case of simpler websites which don't call any information from a database.
  • There is no such thing as a "plugin" or an "extension" for a static site. You need to either code every piece of functionality yourself or find/buy a script to perform that function. This script then needs to be integrated with the rest of your website, often requiring surplus coding experience.
  • Static HTML/CSS templates are available, but your content still needs to be coded in and around the designed template for each and every page on your website.

CMS/Dynamic Websites


A CMS, or Content Management System, is what we refer to as a dynamically driven website. Essentially, what I'm trying to say here is that, with a CMS, your website is running from a sort of framework.

A website developed using a CMS will have a whole repository of functions, rules and pieces of code which can be applied at any point to just about any page, without having to code these on every page of your website. Additionally, instead of replicating your design template on every page of your site, the template is always there and the CMS inserts your text content and arranges elements on the fly depending on what "page" a user is browsing.

The beauty of having everything stored in this library of code is that your website has access to a boatload of functionality without you having to code anything really. This functionality is available on-call whenever you need it, just like the South African Police always are.

Advantages of CMS Websites

  • There is no need to code anything more than once. Once your template, extensions and plugins are set up once, all that's required is to choose what page-specific content you want to include on your website.
  • You, your secretary or even your wife will be able to make changes to the website. This is because changing text content is as easy as using Word, because all the popular content management systems make use of easy-to-use WYSIWYG text editors.
  • If you make a structural change to the template or within the administrator panel of the website, it's carried through the entire site automatically. There's no need to make the change on every single page.
  • Because CMS solutions like Wordpress and Joomla! are so popular, there are literally thousands of extensions (both free and premium) that can add almost any functionality to your website, practically at the press of a button. Whether you need to facilitate online reservations, sell tiddlywinks on your website, syndicate videos or depict yourself as the International Man of Mystery, it's more than likely that there's an extension available to do just that.
  • There are many, many themes, templates and frameworks available on the net which will help you build a website that looks decent, even if you're on a tight budget. Sure, it's likely that somebody else out there will have the same look and feel, but it's highly unlikely that that somebody will be your competitors.
  • Changes to a CMS website generally take far less time than those to a static website. This is because a content management system is designed to do exactly that - allow you to manage content quickly and effortlessly.
  • It's far cheaper to pay a web designer to design and develop your website using a CMS than to design a static website. 
  • Keeping your site secure and up-to-date is as simple as regularly installing updates for your website's extensions, as well as periodically updating to the latest version of the CMS you're using. With Wordpress, it really as simple as clicking on a button.

Disadvantages of CMS Websites

  • Because a CMS like Joomla! or Wordpress is created to serve the needs of millions of people, I can quite confidently say that it's unlikely to service your needs to the Tee, without any surplus functionality. Fact is, a CMS will always have a lot more bloat than a static website. You will probably never use this bloat, but it will always be there. This is simply a compromise that needs to be made.
  • Owing to the above reason, a CMS website is often substantially slower than a static website. Pieces of code/script that are likely to be used on your website are always loaded, regardless of whether they are actually necessary for that page or not. It is, of course, possible to speed up a CMS website enough that you probably won't notice the difference, but this does require investing some time and often some coding knowledge into the development of your website.
  • Control over the search engine optimisation of your website will often not be as strict as with a static file. This is because of the nature of dynamic content. Thankfully, with good SEO practice and a few handy SEO extensions, you can apply rules to the dynamic content and take care of all your SEO worries. In fact, if you're using Wordpress, many of the SEO concerns are already implemented right out of the box. Just beware of extensions/plugins adding advanced functionality to your website, as this is often where things go wrong.
  • You often need to put more consideration (and money) into the type of hosting you use for a CMS website. You need things like MySQL databases and PHP, as well as more space and bandwidth than you would need for a simple static website.

All things considered, it's quite obvious that for most small businesses, using a CMS like Wordpress or Joomla! is going to be the correct way forward for you. Practicality, ease of use, extensibility and cost are all very important factors that make using a CMS the obvious choice.

So far, the only cases I've come across for which a CMS wouldn't have been appropriate, are advanced online applications that are required to be very quick and highly customized. In this instance, it'd be like trying to turn an apple into a pear. No matter what you do, it's never going to be quite right.

So when you chat to your web designers about building your next website, be sure to enquire about whether they will be building your website using a content management system. If not, why not?

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Mark is a co-founder of Red Giant Design Studio whose passion lies in business and entrepreneurship - more specifically the branding and marketing thereof. Mark enjoys helping other small business owners grow and market their businesses.

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